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Numbers Don’t Lie: Measurements of a Healthy Heart

August 26, 2019

The early indicators of heart disease are mostly invisible. You might not have any physical symptoms before a heart attack or other serious problems occur. Instead, your doctor conducts a range of tests and other measurements to learn whether your heart is healthy or not. You can track some of these heart health numbers yourself, while other results require a blood test from a lab. Understanding what these 7 heart numbers mean and why they’re important can help you reduce your risk of serious heart problems down the road.

  1. Blood pressure. Blood pressure is measured using the familiar cuff. You can find automatic blood pressure monitors for home use at most drug stores. Results are given with two numbers. The “top” number indicates systolic pressure, which is the force of blood on your arteries when your heart is beating. The “bottom” diastolic number measures the same force when your heart is at rest. While a result of 120/80 is optimal, normal results can range up to 140/90 for most people.
  3. Oxygen saturation. Oxygen saturation indicates how much oxygen is in your blood and available to the rest of your body. It’s measured by a device that clips over one of your fingers. Home versions are available at pharmacies. Results range up to a score of 100, and normally are 95 or above. A result below 90 means your body might not be getting enough oxygen.
  5. Cholesterol. Cholesterol, a form of fat, is measured with a blood test. Results will indicate both your HDL (“good”) and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. The LDL number is more important because this type of cholesterol can accumulate inside your arteries, leading to a higher chance for heart attack or stroke. An LDL result of 130 mg/dL or lower is optimal for most people. Those at higher risk of heart disease should aim for 100 mg/dL or less.
  7. Triglycerides. Triglycerides are another kind of fat that travels through our blood. Researchers believe they can be a factor in heart disease, though their exact role isn’t known. They also rise when you ingest simple carbohydrates, like sugar, breads and alcohol. Triglycerides are tracked using a blood test, and a result below 15 mg/dL is optimal.
  9. A1C blood sugar. This blood test is different from the finger-stick glucose test you might be familiar with. The finger-stick test provides blood sugar levels at the moment the test is taken. The A1C measures blood sugar levels over the previous 2–3 months. Higher numbers indicate greater risk for both diabetes and heart disease. Normal levels are between 4% and 5.6%.
  11. Waist size. Having more fat around your waist, instead of your hips, can mean a higher risk of heart disease. For women, this means a waist size of 35 inches or more. For men, the figure is 40 inches or more. You can measure your waist size at home with a tape measure. To do this correctly, stand and place the tape measure around your waist, just above your hipbone. Then breathe in and take the measurement just after you breathe out.
  13. Body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated using your height and weight to provide an estimate of your body fat. Numbers above 24.9 can indicate that you’re at greater risk for heart disease. However, these results have limits. BMI can overestimate body fat in athletes and others with an especially muscular build. The test also can underestimate body fat in older people and others who have lost muscle mass.