Know Your Numbers - Part 2: Breakdown of the Numbers

Jul 31, 2023

 by Kim Bouldin

Know your numbers!

Welcome to Part 2 of our Guest Blog series with Karen Duffey, RN. 

There are a lot of health-related numbers to understand so I am going to break them down a little bit:

Vital Signs 101

  • Pulse – measured in beats per minute
    • Average 60-100 – can count using a smart watch/app or manually
      • *Put pointer and middle fingers side by side to opposite wrist with palm facing upward
      • Slide both fingers from the middle tendons outward and should feel a pulsing sensation
      • Count using a stopwatch or second hand on a watch for 15 seconds and multiply x 4
      • Should be done at a resting position
  • Temperature – many different options available – I prefer the ear scanner
    • -Average -97.1 – 99.1 – can vary from person to person but try to learn your baseline to compare when feeling ill
  • Respirations
    • Average 14-20 breaths per minute
      • Look in a mirror at rest and count for 30 seconds and multiply x 2
      • Be aware when you feel like you are breathing more rapidly 
  • Blood Pressure – (Need to have a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope OR a sphygmomanometer device) Two numbers which represent the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts (Systolic – the higher or first/top number) and when the heart relaxes (Diastolic – the lower or second/bottom number) -Can vary depending on situation, position but generally it should be taken at several intervals to get a more accurate reading. Should be seated and arm extended at level close to heart level. 

What is YOUR average? Let your healthcare provider know if a reading sounds OUTSIDE of YOUR average! 

  • Normal = Numbers less than 120/80 mm Hg
  • Elevated = Numbers ranging from 120-129/less than 80 mm Hg  
  • Hypertension Stage 1 = Numbers ranging from 130-139/80-89 mm Hg
  • Hypertension Stage 2 = Numbers ranging from 140/90 mm Hg or higher 
  • Hypertensive Crisis – Numbers exceeding 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and test again. If still high, contact health care professional immediately 


  • **If experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness or change in vision or difficulty speaking, CALL 911 immediately! 


Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) – a finger stick OR from a small blood sample from your arm. No need to fast 

Normal Blood Sugar Levels By Age (Chart) – Forbes Health

  • A normal A1C level is BELOW 5.7%
  • A level of 5.7% to 6.4% indicates PRE-DIABETES
  • A level of 6.5% or more indicates DIABETES

When to Test Blood Sugar particularly for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes:

  • When experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar, such as dizziness, sweating or confusion
  • After dining at a restaurant or trying new foods
  • When feeling sick
  • When experiencing stress
  • While consuming alcohol
  • Before and after exercising
  • When starting a new medication
  • After taking too much insulin or diabetes medication
  • After taking diabetes medicine at the wrong time

Cholesterol Levels

Type of cholesterol Anyone 19 or younger Females aged 20 or over 

Total Cholesterol Less than 170 mg/dL 125-500 mg/dL

Non-HDL Less than 120 mg/dL Less than 130 mg/dL

LDL Less than 100 mg/dL Less than 100 mg/dL

HDL More than 45 mg/dL 50 mg/dL or higher

Triglyceride Below 150 mg/dL Below 150 mg/dL

*Borderline high (150-199) and high (200 mg/dL) 

A normal total cholesterol level for adults without heart disease is less than 200 mg/dL. An HDL level of 60 mg/dL and above is considered protective against heart disease while a level less than 50 mg/dL for women is considered a major risk factor for heart disease (  

Total cholesterol – a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood including low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL)

LDL (bad) cholesterol – the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries

HDL (good) cholesterol – helps remove cholesterol from your arteries

Non-HDl – this number is your total cholesterol minus your HDL. Your non-HDL includes LDL and other types of cholesterol such as VLDL (very-low-density lipoprotein)

Triglycerides – another form of fat in your blood that can raise your risk for heart disease especially in women 


Complete Blood Count- can be used to help detect a variety of disorders including infections, anemia, disease of the immune system and blood cancers and includes:

Red blood cells -carry oxygen from y our lungs to the rest of your body

White blood cells- fight infections and other diseases. Five major types – a CBC measures the total number of white cells in your blood. A different test called a CBC with differential measures the number of each type of white cells

Platelets – stop bleeding by helping your blood to clot

Hemoglobin- a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body

Hematocrit – a measurement of how much your blood is made up of red blood cells

Mean Corpuscular volume (MCV) -a measure of the average size of your red blood cells


Basic Metabolic Panel -gives information about your body’s metabolism or how your body uses food for energy. It gives a snapshot of the health of your kidneys, your blood sugar levels and the levels of key electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium and includes:

Calcium- plays a role in keeping your cells working the way they should and helps blood clot normally

Carbon Dioxide- can be a measure of how well your kidneys and lungs are working

Chloride- a measure related to how your body manages fluids

Creatinine- a byproduct of your kidney’s normal functioning and levels can tell you how well your kidneys are working

Glucose- a key source of energy for your body but too much or too little can be a problem

Potassium- a mineral that plays a leading role in cell health

Sodium- a mineral plays a key role in making sure cells, tissues and blood have enough water to work well

Urea nitrogen, or BUN- another byproduct of kidney function that shows how well your kidneys are working


Thyroid Panel - Thyroid tests check to see if your thyroid glad works like it should. Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that sits just above your sternum. It produces hormones that control several different body systems. You may need a thyroid test if you have symptoms like fatigue, sluggishness, restlessness, irritability, or unexplained weight changes. They can help diagnose thyroid diseases such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, thyroiditis, Graves disease, Hashimoto’s disease 

TSH- measures your thyroid-stimulating hormone. 

T3 (or free T3)- this hormone is one of two main hormones made by your thyroid 

T4 (or free T4)-the other main type of hormone made by your thyroid 

Thyroid antibody tests- tells your provider whether there are thyroid antibodies in your blood which could indicate an autoimmune disorder

Kidney Profile: Measure how well your kidneys clear waste from y our system. The kidneys help your body filter waster materials and expel them as urine. They produce vital hormones for maintaining blood pressure as well as red blood cells and Vitamin D 

  • Serum Creatinine – looks for buildup of creatinine which is a waste product from muscle tissue breakdown
  • eGFR- calculates filtration rates based on your protein levels, age, gender, size, and race 
  • Urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio (UACR) – could be a warning sign of kidney disease 
  • BUN (Blood Urea Nitrogen) – measure nitrogen (made from protein breakdown) in your blood 


Colonoscopy vs ColoFIT or ColoGUARD my mother’s gastroenterologist told me at the time of her recent colonoscopy which did diagnose her with stage IV colon cancer is that these send away kits can miss up to 40% of cancer. Of course, all diagnostic tests have false positives and false negatives. Just be aware that it is not as good at finding pre-cancerous polyps and cannot remove them. According to the NEJM study, “Cologuard misses more than 30 percent of polyps that will soon be cancer and 57 percent of polyps that may become cancer” (Sept 2018). 

Done in inpatient or outpatient settings. Depending on physician preference and reasons for scan, the type of prep ordered may vary. The prep begins the week prior with paying special attention to types of foods to avoid eating the week prior to the exam. (Nuts, berries, lettuces, red food coloring, etc.) The night before, consume the prep as ordered. The day of the prep, arrive at the hospital, an IV will be started and then IV sedation will be given so that you don’t feel or remember anything. The procedure takes a short amount of time and the provider with discuss findings once you are in the recovery area. 


Mammograms – there are two types of mammograms available in the US. Both are done in the same way and take the same amount of time. According to the FDA as of March 11, 2023, about 86% of US screening facilities now offer 3D mammography.

3D mammograms (also called digital breast tomosynthesis) – creates a 3D image of each breast 

2D digital mammograms – only creates a 2D image  


Bone Density screening – Quick and painless procedures involve lying on your back on an x-ray table. No special preps needed 

DXA or Dual0energy x-ray absorptiometry 

**If you do not have a primary care physician, please know that there are many options in the Central Ohio area to obtain ROUTINE screening at a minimal cost. Please check with your insurance provider including Medicare and Medicaid prior to screenings to make sure that you are within your network if applicable. If you do not have insurance, please contact your local area clinic that would be happy to assist you. All the area hospitals (Ohio Health, Ohio State and Mount Carmel) all have numerous clinics that should be close to you. 

Your primary care provider can order these tests for you and help you keep track of when you should be getting them done. They can also recommend further diagnostic tests and develop treatment plans that you can work together to implement.