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DR. BRIDGET GIBSON: Health numbers that matter (column)

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Dr. Bridget Gibson teaser

Dr. Bridget Gibson

Our health numbers, such as our weight, blood sugar, blood cholesterol and blood pressure, are crucial in evaluating the status of our health. 

Medical professionals conduct tests and procedures to determine if our health numbers fall within the normal range in order to detect potential health risks and help prevent them.

Blood sugar

Diabetes is a condition that causes blood sugar levels to spike. If you suspect that you have diabetes, it is recommended you inform your doctor and request for a hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c ) test. This test provides your average blood sugar for the past three months and can help your doctor diagnose your condition. HbA1c results come in percentages:

●        Normal: below 5.7%

●        Prediabetes: 5.7% - 6.4%

●        Diabetes: 6.5% or higher

For people with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends maintaining the HbA1c levels below 7%. Some of the best ways to keep your blood sugar within the normal range are to reduce your sugar intake, limit refined carbohydrates, eat more fiber, drink more water and exercise regularly.

Blood pressure

A blood pressure of less than 120/80 mm Hg is considered normal. The top number (120) is the peak pressure in the arteries, while the bottom number (80) is the lowest pressure. 

Having a high blood pressure means your blood pumps through your blood vessels and your heart with more force than required, which can lead to problems, such as heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.

To keep your blood pressure within the normal range, exercise regularly and limit high-fat meals, processed foods, salty foods and whole-fat dairy products. If you are on blood pressure medication, the goal is for your blood pressure to be consistently under 140/90. 

Blood cholesterol

High cholesterol levels may eventually lead to heart disease. To measure your cholesterol levels, your doctor will recommend a blood test called a lipid panel. This test will give you information about your total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, triglycerides and non-HDL. It’s important to note normal cholesterol numbers vary depending on your age and gender.

Age 19 or younger

Type of Cholesterol

Healthy Range

Total Cholesterol

Less than 170mg/dL

LDL

Less than 110mg/dL

HDL

More than 45mg/dL

Non-HDL

Less than 120mg/dL

Men age 20 and above

Type of Cholesterol

Healthy Range

Total Cholesterol

125 to 200mg/dL

LDL

Less than 100mg/dL

HDL

40mg/dL or higher

Non-HDL

Less than 130mg/dL

Women age 20 and above

Type of Cholesterol

Healthy Range

Total Cholesterol

125 to 200mg/dL

LDL

Less than 100mg/dL

HDL

50mg/dL or higher

Non-HDL

Less than 130mg/dL

Lifestyle changes can help lower your cholesterol levels and decrease your cardiac risk. These include heart-healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding stress and not smoking.

Body weight

Carrying extra weight may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It can also contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and high blood sugar. The American Heart Association recommends a body mass index (BMI) of 18.6 to 24.9 and a waistline of less than 40 inches for men and smaller than 35 inches for women.

You can measure your BMI through free BMI calculators online or by asking your doctor. If you need to lose weight, you can start with making small changes, such as exercising more, eating smaller portions throughout the day or cutting back on calories and keeping a support system.

Final thoughts

If your health numbers do not fall in normal range, work closely with your doctor to manage your condition and prevent potential health risks.

Dr. Bridget Gibson is a family medicine physician for Brookwood Baptist Health.