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Know Your Numbers

Monday, February 19, 2018

Tax season is here. We are all looking at last year's earnings, taxes, and deductions. If all works out, we break even or get a refund! It is critical for businesses and households to know and understand their finances in order to plan for the future. Likewise, individuals should know their health numbers so necessary adjustments can be made for a healthy future. Many people, however, either don’t know their health numbers or understand them. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 12% of Americans are proficient in health literacy. Those who are health literate can look at health tables, charts, and numbers and interpret them correctly. Those numbers are an important part of understanding your total health picture. Critical health numbers include: blood glucose (sugar), blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and body weight. The Centers for Disease Control state “Keep track of your numbers for blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), and others. These numbers can provide a glimpse of your health status and risk for certain diseases and conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and more.” Visiting your physician and getting a blood draw is the first step in knowing your numbers. Once that is accomplished, a thorough discussion of the results along with a game plan for either maintaining or improving your numbers is next. Before you analyze your results, look at the following guidelines for healthy numbers: 1. Blood glucose – There are two basic measurements. One is the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood after fasting. This is measured in milligrams per deciliter or mg/dL. A normal reading would be under 99 mg/dL. Blood sugar is also measured by the amount of glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) in your blood. An HbA1c test gives you a picture of your average blood sugar control for the past 2 to 3 months. This is commonly known as your A1c and is measured as a percentage. A normal reading would be 4.0%-5.6%. 5.7%-6.4% indicates an increased risk for diabetes and consecutive readings above 6.5% indicates diabetes. 2. Blood pressure – Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury or mmHg. This refers to the height to which the pressure in the blood vessels pushes a column of mercury. There are two numbers. The top number is the maximum pressure your heart exerts while beating (systolic pressure), and the bottom number is the amount of pressure in your arteries between beats (diastolic pressure). Normal BP is defined as <120/<80 mm Hg; elevated BP 120-129/<80 mm Hg; hypertension stage 1 is 130-139 or 80-89 mm Hg, and hypertension stage 2 is =140 or =90 mm. (source: American College of Cardiology) Numbers may vary some depending on your age and risk factors. Discuss an optimal goal with your physician. 3. Cholesterol – A blood draw for cholesterol will reveal four numbers: total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dL) of blood or mg/dL. Total Cholesterol Guidelines - Normal: 199 mg/dL or lower cholesterol levels - Borderline High: 200 to 239 mg/dL cholesterol levels High: 240 mg/dL or higher cholesterol levels. Your physician will discuss the breakdown with you and determine the best numbers depending on your age, gender, and heart disease risk. Body weight – To determine optimal weight, doctors refer to the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI is a formula developed to test how much body fat we have in relation to our weight. In the USA, we use the following formula: BMI= 703 x weight/height2. A normal BMI reading is 18.5-24.9. Overweight is 25-29.9 and obese is 30 or greater. Doctors will also take into consideration your build, muscle mass, and age when analyzing the BMI. As you plan for 2018, consider putting a visit to the doctor on your calendar. Ask for a blood draw and a BMI reading so you can know your numbers. The best plan for the future is to be here and be healthy! Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, she can be reached at or 585-335-4327.

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