When Should I Worry About...

Why You Should Know These 4 Health Numbers

Feb. 20, 2023

Too often, we take a reactionary approach to our health, waiting until something goes wrong to finally find a doctor.

That's not how it should work.

"A doctor and patient should be partners in health," says Dr. Julie Nguyen, a primary-care physician at Houston Methodist. "Working together, we can help you live a healthy life."

This means it's never too early to establish a relationship with a primary-care provider. Even healthy, young adults benefit.

What is a primary-care provider?

Your primary-care provider, or PCP, is one of your most important health resources.

But what does a PCP do?

"As your PCP, my job is to help you stay healthy," explains Dr. Nguyen. "I can diagnose things that might not feel right and help you keep an eye on your health. PCPs help prevent problems and learn the best ways to maintain your health."

Your PCP performs annual physical exam and is usually the first stop if any illness or health concerns arise. They also help you understand and reduce your risk for developing a wide variety of health problems, like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. They can also recommend testing or refer you to specialty care when needed.

4 important health numbers to keep your eye on

To keep tabs on your overall health, your PCP monitors several key numbers that check your risk for developing serious diseases.

1. Blood pressure

A measurement of the amount of force your heart needs to pump blood throughout your body. High blood pressure can negatively affect the function of your heart and other major organs, such as the kidney and brain. It's also the leading cause of stroke. (Related: Why Your Blood Pressure Matters — Even in Your 20s & 30s)

Blood pressure is measured by two numbers:

  • Systolic (the top number), which is when your heart pumps blood out
  • Diastolic (the bottom number), which is when your heart rests between beats

Healthy target: less than 120/80 mmHg

2. Body mass index (BMI)

A measure of your weight divided by your height, squared. While not a perfect measure, your BMI is a tool to help your PCP understand whether you're at a healthy weight. The higher your BMI, the greater your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

Healthy target: BMI between 18.5 to 25

3. Fasting blood sugar

A measure of the amount of glucose in your blood after fasting for eight to 12 hours. High blood sugar, also called hyperglycemia, can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control your heart over time. It can also lead to type 2 diabetes.

Healthy target: below 100 mg/dL

4. Total cholesterol

A measurement of cholesterol (a fat-like substance made in the liver and found in foods) in your blood. Excess cholesterol can build up in the walls of the arteries, leading to narrowing or blockages in your vessels, which increases your risk of heart attack or stroke. (Related: What Causes High Cholesterol)

Healthy target: less than 200 mg/dL.

Talk to your doctor to understand all of your cholesterol (lipid) levels, including LDL, HDL and triglycerides, and what they mean for your heart health.

What to do if your numbers are high

As your health partner, your PCP can help you make a personalized plan to get back within healthy range if necessary.

Some risk factors are genetic or out of your control, like family history, age and sex — but there's still a lot you can do to keep your numbers in a healthy range.

Healthy lifestyle changes your doctor may recommend include:

Building a partnership with your PCP and working with them to know and manage your numbers can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease and other health complications.

Stay up-to-date
By signing up, you will receive our newsletter with articles, videos, health tips and more.
Please Enter Email
Please Enter Valid Email
Categories: When Should I Worry About...