Evaluate Your Health — Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, and Blood Glucose

By Erin Palinski-Wade

You need to know your internal numbers when evaluating your health risk. These numbers include your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels. If you have an increased amount of belly fat, you may be more at risk for diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

To assess your risk and start taking action to improve your health, schedule an appointment with your physician to determine your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels.

Know your levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatlike substance produced by the liver and found in all the body’s cells. It’s also found in many of the foods you eat. Cholesterol is needed to make vitamin D as well as many hormones. In your body, substances called lipoproteins package and transport cholesterol to your cells.

Two kinds of lipoproteins carry cholesterol in your body: High-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Having a healthy ratio of these lipoproteins is important to your health.

  • HDL cholesterol: Otherwise known as the “happy” or good cholesterol, HDL cholesterol is the one you want to have a high amount of. This form of cholesterol is like a garbage truck, picking up and transporting cholesterol back to the liver. The liver then removes the cholesterol from your body.

  • LDL cholesterol: This cholesterol, referred to as “lousy” or bad cholesterol, is the one you want to have less of. High levels of this cholesterol can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries, which over time may lead to deadly blockages. Because elevated levels of cholesterol may increase your risk of heart disease, you need to monitor your levels.

In addition to knowing your levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol, you also want to assess the following two additional blood lipids:

  • Total cholesterol: Total cholesterol is a measurement of HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and other lipid components. Elevated total cholesterol levels are also an indicator of heart disease, so you want to aim to keep this level within an optimum range.

  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are the fats flowing through your bloodstream from the food you eat. Elevated levels of triglycerides are linked with an increased risk of heart disease as well as type 2 diabetes, so it’s essential to lower elevated triglyceride levels.

You should aim to have your levels of total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides checked annually or more often if elevated. Your doctor checks your cholesterol by taking a fasting blood sample.

Cholesterol Levels and Their Risks
Blood Lipid Range Risk Category
Total cholesterol <170 mg/dL<200 mg/dL200–239 mg/dL240 mg/dL or
Very Low LowModerately highHigh
LDL cholesterol <100 mg/dL100–129 mg/dL130–159
mg/dL160–189 mg/dL190 mg/dL or higher
Very LowLowBorderline highHighVery high
HDL cholesterol <40 mg/dL (men)<50 mg/dL (women)40–59 mg/dL
(men)50–59 mg/dL (women)>60 mg/dL (men and women)
HighHighLowLowVery Low
Triglycerides <150 mg/dL150–199 mg/dL200–499 mg/dL500 mg/dL or
LowModerateHighVery high

Know your blood pressure numbers

Blood pressure is just what it sounds like: It’s the measurement of the blood’s force against the wall of the arteries. Two numbers make up your blood pressure: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is a measurement taken as the heart beats, whereas the diastolic pressure is the measurement as the heart relaxes in between beats. The measurement is written as the systolic number over the diastolic number.

Elevated blood pressure (also known as hypertension), if not controlled, can increase risk for heart disease, stroke, and even kidney disease. So it’s important to have your blood pressure checked at least once annually and more often if elevated.

The systolic and diastolic measurements are considered separately, so it’s important to note that if one number is normal and the other is elevated, you’re still at an increased risk.

Categories of Blood Pressure in Adults
Category Blood Pressure (Systolic or Diastolic)
Normal <120 mmHg or <80 mmHg
Pre-hypertension 120–139 mmHg or 80–89 mmHg
Stage 1 hypertension 140–159 mmHg or 90–99 mmHg
Stage 2 hypertension 160 mmHg or above or 100 mmHg or above

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Have your blood glucose checked on a regular basis

Elevated blood sugar (glucose) is a sign of insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. High amounts of glucose in the bloodstream can lead to serious health consequences, including diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease.

Fasting Blood Glucose Levels
Glucose Levels Category
Normal 70–99 mg/dL
Pre-diabetic levels 100–126 mg/dL
Diabetic levels >126 mg/dL

Having your blood glucose checked on a regular basis is key to preventing and controlling diabetes. If your blood glucose is found to be elevated, dietary changes, exercise, and decreasing belly fat have been shown to help reverse insulin resistance and lower blood glucose levels. Have your glucose levels checked annually or more regularly if they’re elevated. Your doctor checks your blood sugar levels by taking a fasting blood sample.