Know your numbers
January 2020   HEALTHCARE

Know your numbers

You'd think that healthy people would be pretty easy to spot. But some health issues are more than skin deep.
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Most of us know our height and weight, and at a push can remember our age. But if asked the numbers that really matter, not many could answer.

High blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose can be invisible to the eye. But we shouldn't ignore them. Too much pressure in your arteries can up your risk of a stroke, and high cholesterol can make you prone to heart disease. So it's important to get your figures checked out.

With just a few simple tests you can discover if you need to make any lifestyle changes.

Under pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, has been nicknamed the 'silent killer'. Many people don't even know they have it.

Blood pressure is measured in two parts. First, the pressure of the blood is measured as it's pushed around your heart (systolic blood pressure), and secondly when your heart relaxes (diastolic blood pressure). A healthy blood pressure is 120/80 or less, but the lower the numbers, the better.1 A reading of 140/90 mmHg or above is linked to several health risks like heart disease, stroke and kidney damage.2

But it's not all bad. Once you know you have high blood pressure, it's easily treated. Your GP can let you know if you need any medication. You could also fight the pressure yourself by eating less salt and adding more fruit and vegetables to your diet.2

The good, the bad and the ugly

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the blood. There are two types, the good - high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and the bad - low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Too much LDL can increase your risk of heart disease, especially if your HDL level is also quite low.3

Anyone can have a cholesterol test. But it's especially important if you have a history of high cholesterol or heart disease in your family, or are overweight.4

It is recommended that your cholesterol level should be less than 5 mmol/l. Although government recommendations do vary country, to country. You could also do a little homework by eating less fatty foods - especially those containing saturated and trans fats - and getting active.5

Keeping an eye on your BMI

You probably think that your weight is pretty obvious. But your body mass index (BMI) doesn't only look at the scales, it factors in your height as well. It's an important health monitor, as your weight doesn't tell the whole story.

A BMI of 18.5 - 24.99 is ideal. Any less than 18.5 and you may need to put on weight. If your BMI is between 25 and 29.99, it's a good idea to lose some weight. Eating healthily and getting active can push your BMI back into the ideal range. Very overweight people have a BMI of over 30 and should lose weight or risk serious health problems, like6:

  • Heart disease   
  • Some cancers, e.g. bowel, kidney, womb and breast   
  • Type 2 diabetes  
  • Poor fertility

However it is worth remembering that there are shortfalls to the BMI as a measure. If you have an athletic build, your BMI could fall into a high category even when you have a healthy amount of body fat. Your BMI may also be underestimated as you grow older, as more of your body weight will be fat, not muscle.

The sweet life

Having too much sugar in your blood can damage your blood vessels. A healthy blood fasting glucose level is less than 6.1 mmol/l and after eating this should be less than 7.8 mmol/l.7

If high blood sugar isn't kept under control, you could develop type 2 diabetes and other complications such as heart disease and kidney, eye, and nervous system problems.8

The trouble is, the signs and symptoms of high blood sugar are pretty minor and easily confused with symptoms of other conditions. Some people don't show any symptoms at all.7 So if you're worried, or if you'd just like to be safe, a simple blood test from your doctor can keep life sweet.

Some tell-tale signs of high blood sugar are9:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequently needing to urinate, especially at night   
  • Weight loss   
  • Blurred vision   
  • Tiredness

The final countdown

It's easy to hide in your body's shadow. But staying on top of your body's numbers could help you dodge any health problems in the future.

Sources

  1. The facts about high blood pressure. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/the-facts-about-high-blood-pressure. Updated 30 November 2017. Visited 7 January 2020. 
  2. Changes You Can Make to Manage High Blood Pressure. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/MakeChangesThatMatter/Changes-You-Can-Make-to-Manage-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002054_Article.jsp. Updated 30 November 2017. Visited 7 January 2020.
  3. High cholesterol. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/symptoms-causes/syc-20350800. Updated 13 July 2019. Visited 7 January 2020.
  4. High Cholesterol Diagnosis. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-cholesterol/getting-tested. Updated 15 April 2019. Visited 7 January 2020.
  5. How to lower your cholesterol. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-cholesterol/how-to-lower-your-cholesterol. Updated 15 April 2019. Visited 7 January 2020.
  6. Kyrgiou M, Kalliala I, Markozannes G, et al. Adiposity and cancer at major anatomical sites: umbrella review of the literature. BMJ. 2017;356:j477. Published 2017 Feb 28. doi:10.1136/bmj.j477
  7. About Diabetes. Intermediate states of hyperglycemia. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/diabetes/action_online/basics/en/index2.html. Visited 7 January 2020.
  8. About Diabetes. Complications of diabetes. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/diabetes/action_online/basics/en/index3.html. Visited 7 January 2020.
  9. Hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar). NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-blood-sugar-hyperglycaemia. Updated 8 August 2018. Visited 7 January 2020.

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