5 Health Numbers Every Woman Should Know

Dr. Patricia Ferguson
Dr. Patricia Ferguson

| 4 min read

Dr. Patricia Ferguson, MD, is medical director at Senior Health...

Women’s Health Month in May should serve as a time for all women to step back and evaluate their physical and mental health. But that evaluation and extra attention to detail and self-care shouldn’t stop when the calendar flips to June.
Women can stay on top of their health year-round is by knowing their numbers. This means taking a preventive approach to health by understanding key indicators that determine whether they are at risk of heart disease, certain cancers or infectious diseases or other health concerns related to menopause, pregnancy, and mental health, including depression and anxiety.
If you’re not already, here are five important numbers you should always track.
1. Total cholesterol
Total cholesterol is one of the factors your PCP can use to predict your lifetime or 10-year risk for a heart attack or stroke, according to the American Heart Foundation. It’s important for women to know their total cholesterol because many women with heart disease or diabetes have high triglyceride levels. Additionally, menopause is associated with a progressive increase in total cholesterol, which can occur in some women either during or after menopause, due to reduced levels of estrogen.
Total cholesterol a composite of different measurements and is calculated by adding your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, plus 20% of your triglyceride level. Your primary care provider (PCP) checks your total cholesterol through use of a simple blood test called a lipid profile. A normal total cholesterol level for adults is below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). 
2. Blood sugar levels
Controlling your blood sugar is one of the most important ways a woman can look after her heart. Many patients with diabetes who appear asymptomatic are actually experiencing harm to their blood vessels, which can cause the arteries to harden. Some people don’t even know the have diabetes until the condition progresses to the point of a heart attack.
This is why knowing your blood sugar levels – or blood glucose numbers – is important. Your PCP will let you know how often you need to have an A1C test to learn your levels. A1C tests measure your average blood sugar levels over the past 2-3 months.
3. Body Mass Index (BMI)
Body Mass Index (BMI)a ratio of weight to height that can help determine if a person's weight is in proportion to their height. BMI’s accuracy and relevance has been debated over the years, but historically, it serves as a reliable indicator of a person’s body fat.
Knowing your BMI helps you gauge your risk for diseases that can occur with more body fat. The higher your BMI, the higher your risk is for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, gallstones, sleep apnea, liver disease, high cholesterol and certain cancers. Every adult should be screened annually using a BMI measurement.
4. Resting heart rate
Women typically have a slightly higher resting heart rates (RHR) than men. The average heart rate for adult women is 78 to 82 beats per minute, though the “normal” range is between 60 to 100 beats per minute, according to the Cleveland Clinic. A heart rate that consistently exceeds 100 beats per minute is considered dangerous for women.
Factors like menopause, menstrual cycles and pregnancy can cause RHR fluctuations. For instance, pregnant women have higher average RHRs than people who are not pregnant. Learn how to measure your (RHR), here. Important lifestyle changes can help you obtain a healthier RHR. A regular exercise program is the best way to lower it. Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol and caffeine intake help as well.
5. Blood pressure
High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – forces the heart to work harder. Uncontrolled, undiagnosed hypertension can lead to long term consequences such as:
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Retinopathy
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heart Attack
  • Stroke
  • Death
Some women who have never had high blood pressure develop it while they are pregnant, as pregnancy can put extra stress on the heart and kidneys. High blood pressure increases the risk for conditions like preeclampsia, preterm birth and cesarean births.
Normal blood pressure for most adults is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of less than 80, per the National Institute on Aging. Elevated blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure between 120 and 129 with a diastolic pressure of less than 80. Your PCP may recommend monitoring your blood pressure at home if it is high. Learn more about that at this link.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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