Know all your numbers


3 November 2013

Cut your risk of heart and kidney disease, stroke and diabetes by keeping a check on your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, weight and waist measurements.

Vital warning signs about your future health could be revealed by simple tests your GP can perform or some that you can measure yourself with a tape measure or scales.

Why bother? Well, raised blood pressure and cholesterol levels are risk factors which could lead to suffering a stroke, heart attack and kidney disease.

Having a body mass index in the overweight range or carrying fat around your middle also increases your risk of developing the same diseases, plus diabetes and some types of cancer.

Get your blood pressure checked

High blood pressure or hypertension often has no symptoms (insert link to Hypertension feature) so regular checks are important.

How is blood pressure measured?

A blood pressure reading comes as two figures, the higher ‘over’ the lower (140 over 80, for instance, usually written as 140/80). Both are measured in millimols of mercury or mmHg. The higher figure – your ‘systolic’ blood pressure – is the pressure in your arteries as your heart pumps blood out round the system. The lower figure – your ‘diastolic’ blood pressure – is the remaining pressure in your arteries when your heart is resting between beats.

Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure are important because, if either one is consistently raised, it can increase your risk of stroke (and heart attack). High systolic blood pressure probably increases your risks more than high diastolic blood pressure.

Have I got high blood pressure?

The threshold for diagnosing hypertension is different for different people. The ‘ideal’ is probably somewhere around 120/80. If you are otherwise healthy, your doctor will not normally recommend treatment unless your blood pressure is consistently above 160/100 mmHg.

If you have diabetes, chronic kidney problems, have had a heart attack or stroke or have other risk factors which increase your chance of these conditions, your doctor will recommend treatment if your blood pressure is consistently above 140/90.

A single blood pressure reading above 180/110 is considered ‘severe’ hypertension and your doctor will recommend treatment straightaway. Some people suffer ‘white coat hypertension’

Get your cholesterol tested

High cholesterol can cause blocked arteries which in turn can lead to heart disease, heart attack, stroke and kidney disease, so it’s important to get your levels checked. This can be done by your GP or practice nurse.

The ‘ideal’ is below 5mmol/l for total cholesterol if you’re generally healthy or below 4mmol/l if you’ve had a heart attack or stroke or have diabetes. However, even more important is the ratio of ‘good to bad’ cholesterol, which your GP can advise you on – this should be below 5.

If your cholesterol levels are too high, you will be advised to take more exercise and eat less saturated fat. You may also be prescribed a daily cholesterol-lowering drug called a statin.

Request a blood glucose test

Up to one million people in the UK are estimated to have undiagnosed diabetes. If you have been feeling excessively tired, thirsty, going to the loo a lot or have experienced weight loss, ask your GP for a urine test for glucose.

If glucose is detected, you will be offered a blood test to confirm the diagnosis. Blood must be taken in the morning, before you eat anything, and after fasting for at least 8 hours. If it’s 6mmol/l or less, you’re fine.

If your blood glucose levels are not high enough to diagnose diabetes, a more sensitive test may be used called a ‘Glucose Tolerance Test’. This involves testing your glucose levels every half hour for two hours after drinking a glucose drink.

If you’re diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, you will be given diet and lifestyle advice, and you may also be prescribed drugs.

Whip out the tape measure

Waist measurement is an important predictor of future health problems as storing excess fat around your middle can make you more prone to developing heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

A waist measurement of more than 94cm (37 inches) if you’re a man and more than 80cm (31.5 inches) if you’re a woman makes you more likely to develop problems.

Reduce your chances of developing these diseases by eating a healthy diet to lose weight and taking more exercise.

Weigh yourself

To find out if you are a healthy weight for your height, you need to calculate your Body Mass Index.

If your BMI is 25 to 29.9, you are classed as overweight; if it’s between 30 and 39.9, you are obese; and anything above that is very obese.

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, kidney disease and some types of cancer

So keeping your weight down by exercise and healthy eating is a sensible precaution.

If you would like to know more about understanding your numbers, then you can ask our panel of experts.

Useful links

Body Mass Index calculator

British Hypertension Society

Blood Pressure Association

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