COVID Updates: Find out the latest on visitor restrictions and ongoing vaccinations at St. Joseph’s/Candler.  Learn more

Do you know your numbers? Here’s an explanation of common lab work results.

Jan 25, 2018

Regular health screenings with your primary care physician can help find problems before they start or early, when your chances for treatment and cure are better. By getting the right health services, screenings and treatments, you are taking steps that can help your chances of living a longer, healthier life.

Some people visit a primary care doctor multiple times of year. For the average, healthy person, an annual visit with your primary care physician is recommended. 

Carol Barbee

“The reason you should have an annual checkup is to have a primary care physician who is familiar with you and can see you every year and track your values,” says Carol Barbee, RN, MSN, APRN-FNP, WellPath Navigator at St. Joseph’s/Candler. “It also helps to insure that there is one person who is watching over your requirements and helping you stay on track.”

Related Article: Here’s what you should look for when selecting a new primary care physician

During a checkup, a primary care physician will perform common tests to measure our health, such as blood pressure and cholesterol. Just as important as seeing your doctor regularly is understanding what he or she is telling you.

“It is important that a patient understands what the number means, how it impacts them and why they may need to perform an intervention, such as diet, watching their sodium or their weight, so that they, in addition to their physician, can track their own changes,” Barbee says.

Lab work results in a lot of numbers. Barbee explains some of the common numbers and what it means for you.


Your Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of height and weight.

What you want it to be: A normal, healthy range is 18.5 to 25. 25 to 30 is considered overweight. 30 to 40 is obese and greater than 40 is morbidly obese.

How to improve your number: If your BMI is outside the healthy range, the best way to lower it is through diet and exercise. You can calculate your BMI online here.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the artery walls. It measures the activity of your heart with stress and rest. The top number (systolic) is the pressure inside the artery when the heart contracts and pumps blood through the body. The bottom number (diastolic) refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart is at rest.

What you want it to be: You want the systolic number to be less than 130. The diastolic number should be less than 90. A normal blood pressure is below 120/80 and above 90/60.

How to improve your numbers: The easiest way to reduce high blood pressure is lowering your sodium intake, Barbee says. Daily sodium intake should be less than 2,000 milligrams. Exercise and maintaining a healthy weight also can help lower your blood pressure.

If your blood pressure is too low, you may feel weak and sluggish. The best way to increase your blood pressure is through hydration preferably with water or an electrolyte beverage such as Gatorade or Powerade.

You can have your blood pressure checked more than during a doctor’s visitor at local pharmacies or your neighborhood fire station.


Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that can be found in all parts of the body. It helps the body make cell membranes, many hormones and vitamin D. Your total cholesterol is a calculation based on the compilation of three primary components.

  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are fats used by the body for energy. You want your triglycerides to be less than 150.
  • HDLs: Our High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is our good cholesterol. It helps to remove cholesterol from the blood and keeps plaque from building up in the arteries. You want your HDL to be greater than 40 and the higher than better.
  • LDLs: Our Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) is bad cholesterol and is a type of fat in the blood that contains the most cholesterol. It can contribute to the formation of plaque buildup in the arteries. You want your LDL to be less than 100.

How to improve your numbers: Triglycerides are the easiest to control because they come from what we eat, Barbee says. Watching and reducing fat sources in your diet can lower your triglycerides. Exercise and a diet that includes Omega-3 foods, such as salmon and tuna, are good ways to increase your HDL. Our LDL is the toughest to lower because it is greatly influenced by our family genetics. Exercise and consuming more oat and plant fiber can help lower LDL. Medication also may be needed to help people control their cholesterol.


The hemoglobin A1C test measures your average blood glucose for the past two to three months. It is the best method of checking for diabetes.

What you want it to be: For low-risk, non-diabetics, a normal A1C is less than 5.7. If your A1C is between 5.7 and 6.4, you will be considered pre-diabetic. If your A1C is greater than 6.5 you are considered diabetic.

How to improve your number: For those with pre-diabetes, your physician may suggest lifestyle changes including routine exercise and following a proper diet. Medication also may be needed. For those with diabetes, you want to keep your A1C under 7, Barbee says. That can be maintained through diet, exercise, taking prescribed medications and regularly checking your blood sugar. For those with a healthy A1C, it’s still important to get regular exercise and follow a healthy diet to maintain your blood glucose.


Glucose is the main source of energy for most cells. A blood glucose check lets you know what your blood sugar level is at the exact moment. It is a wonderful way for someone that has diabetes to track the effectiveness of their diet and exercise and help them manage their condition, Barbee says.

What you want it to be: You want your glucose to be less than 100 for someone who is non-diabetic fasting. Those with diabetes should aim to keep their glucose as low as possible. Anything above 200 is considered unhealthy.

How to improve your number: Blood sugar levels are affected by several factors including diet, diabetes medicine, exercise, stress and illness.


Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, which is the part of the red blood cells that carries oxygen to the body. Most of your body’s iron is stored in hemoglobin. Low hemoglobin is an important indicator of anemia.

What you want it to be: Women should have a hemoglobin level between 11.5 to 13.5. Men’s should range between 12.5 to 14.5.

How to improve your number: If you aren’t getting enough iron, you can increase it by modifying your diet to include iron-rich foods, such as beef, chicken, clams, leafy greens and legumes.

These are just some of the tests that your physician may check for. It’s always important to talk to your doctor about anything concerning and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

“These tests can save your life,” Barbee says. “Don’t ignore annual visits with your physician just because you think you are eating healthy and exercising. You can’t ignore what you inherit from your family. You can’t change some of the disease factors that come with our race or ethnic heritage. What you can change is how often you exercise, your eating habits and your tobacco decisions.”

If you currently do not have a primary care physician, visit our St. Joseph's/Candler Physician Network website to find one near you.

How can we help you?