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3 Health Test Numbers That Could Save Your Life

Tim Boyer's picture

Looking and feeling healthy does not always guarantee that you are healthy. Many conditions remain hidden for years before they manifest as a visible and debilitating disease. Learn about the 3 health tests and numbers you need to know that could save your life.

Health Test #1: Blood pressure

Your systolic and diastolic (top and bottom) blood pressure numbers are the most important numbers you need to know to prevent cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney failure and loss of vision. High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because you can have it without even realizing it. In fact, health authorities estimate that nearly 1/3 of the people who have high blood pressure are unaware of their condition because high blood pressure is symptomless for most people.

However, if your blood pressure is extremely high, there are certain symptoms that can appear such as:

• Severe headache
• Fatigue or confusion
• Vision problems
• Chest pain
• Difficulty breathing
• Irregular heartbeat
• Blood in the urine
• Pounding in your chest, neck, or ears

If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately as you may be in a condition called hypertensive crisis and are about to have a heart attack or stroke.

To monitor your blood pressure numbers you can visit an ER and typically ask a nurse to take your blood pressure, use an automated blood pressure measuring device at a local pharmacy or buy a blood pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer) and stethoscope and learn how to take your own measurements. The blood pressure numbers you need to be aware of are:

For a normal BP: a systolic (the top number) less than 120 mm Hg and a diastolic (the bottom number) less than 80 mm Hg.

For prehypertensive BP: a systolic of 120-139 OR a diastolic 80-89 mm Hg.

For extremely hypertension there are two grades: Stage 1—a systolic of 140-159 and a diastolic of 90-99 mm Hg. Stage 2 – a systolic more than 160 and a diastolic more than 100 mm Hg.

Another number to watch out for is a difference in systolic numbers when both arms are measured for blood pressure. Recent findings by health researchers in Europe show that if the systolic numbers between both arms differ by 10-15 mm Hg or more, then you are at an increased risk for some cardiac problems—even though your numbers may otherwise appear normal.

Health Test #2: Waist size

Your waist size can be an important measure of health because it gives a rough approximation of the amount of belly and intra-abdominal fat you carry around your internal organs. Multiple studies have shown that people with excess belly fat are at a significantly increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

To know whether your waist size number is unhealthy, the simplest method is to do a direct measurement with a tape measure by wrapping the tape around your body in the region above the hips and below the rib cage—typically at the belly button level.

According to a guide on the identification, evaluation and treatment of overweight and obese adults by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, you are at an increased risk of health problems if your numbers are:

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• For men— a waist measurement greater than 40 in.
• For women— a waist measurement greater than 35 in.

However, these numbers are a rough guide and health officials recommend having a body mass index (BMI) evaluation to provide a more accurate numerical assessment of your body fat fitness level.

Health Test #3: Blood sugar

Measuring your blood sugar is called a “blood glucose test.” Glucose comes from eating carbohydrates and is an important nutrient for your body. However, too much glucose is harmful to the body and is primarily controlled by insulin that is secreted by your pancreas. Insulin allows the excess blood sugar to enter your cells and be burned away as energy.

However, if your pancreas is not secreting enough insulin to manage the amount of sugar in your blood, then you will become hyperglycemic. Symptoms of hyperglycemia include thirst, fatigue, weight loss, blurry vision, and frequent urination.

When blood sugar levels stay higher than the recommended numbers, you will become severely dehydrated over time as ketosis develops because your body is unable to get the sugar it needs into its cells and thus begins to burn fat for energy. The burning of fat results in ketones building up in the blood and urine, which in turn pulls water from the body leading to dehydration—a potentially life-threatening condition that includes eye, kidney, nerve and blood vessel damage.

"Ketosis decreases oxygen delivery to the tissues, which puts stress on eyes, kidneys, heart, liver," says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, MPH, RD, LDN, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a diabetes specialist in Philadelphia.

Blood sugar levels fluctuate throughout the day. For most non-diabetic people, blood sugar numbers typically range between 70 to 80 mg/dl. However, it can be as low as 60 and as high as 90 and still be considered normal and healthy.

One of the best indicators of blood sugar health is measuring the blood sugar levels after an 8-hour fast and then again two hours later following a meal.

For a fasting plasma glucose test, a person is said to have diabetes if his or her fasting blood sugar level is higher than 126 mg/dL after not eating (fasting) for eight hours.

A test following a fast is typically one in which a person is given a special sugary drink or a normal meal and then 2 hours later tested for their blood glucose levels. That person is said to have diabetes if two hours after the drink or meal he or she has a sugar level higher than 200, which indicates that their body is not producing enough insulin to handle a normal load of carbohydrate (sugar). If a person has blood sugar levels between100-125, then they are considered to be pre-diabetic.

The take home message is that the aforementioned three tests are basic to good health and by continually monitoring these health test numbers you can add years to your life.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile


“The Practical Guide to Identification, Evaluation and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults” NIH Publication No. 00-4084.

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