An annual physical exam blood test is a very reliable way to find out your risk of heart and blood vessel disease. Combining the results with your health history can help your doctor create the best plan of care for you.
In addition to diagnosing heart disease, a blood test can help your doctor:
- Evaluate how well your organs are working
- Diagnose diseases and conditions such as cancer, diabetes or anemia
- Assess how well your blood is clotting
Let’s look at some of the most critical results your annual physical exam blood test will give you and why they’re so important.
What Annual Physical Exam Blood Tests Tell You
Total Cholesterol (TC)
Your total cholesterol test is directly linked to your risk of heart and blood vessel disease. Your goal will depend on your age:
- 20 years old or younger: 75-169 mg/dL
- 21 years old or older: 100-199 mg/dL
Your goal may also change depending on other risk factors you have.
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)
High-density lipoprotein, most commonly known as HDL is important because this is your “good cholesterol.” High levels reduce your risk of heart and blood vessel disease. The higher your HDL level, the better.
The ideal level for men is higher than 45 mg/dL. Women should try to achieve a level higher than 55 mg/dL
Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL)
On the opposite end of the cholesterol spectrum is a low-density lipoprotein test or LDL. This is your bad cholesterol.
There are a lot of reasons you should try to keep levels of your LDL low. High levels put you at a greater risk of heart and blood vessel disease. If you’re taking cholesterol-lowering medications your target should be:
- Less than 70 mg/dL if you have heart or blood vessel disease, diabetes or a very high risk of heart disease.
- Less than 100 mg/dL if you have metabolic syndrome or more than one risk factor for heart disease.
- Less than 130 mg/dL if you have a low risk of coronary artery disease.
Studies suggest that an optimal total cholesterol level is about 150 mg/dL, with LDL-C at or below 100 mg/dL.
Triglycerides are tied to your risk for heart and blood vessel diseases. Your levels are typically higher if you are obese or diabetic. A very high result (>500-1,000 mg/dL) increases your risk of pancreatitis. Your goal should be less than 150 mg/dL.
A high-fat diet and drinking lots of alcohol can increase triglycerides, as does eating simple sugars/simple carbohydrates. But exercising can help lower levels.
Global Risk Score (GRS)
The global risk score is a tool that rates your risk of developing heart disease or of having a heart attack within the next 10 years. Low risk is considered to be less than 10%. If your risk is 20% or higher, that’s considered high.
Complete Blood Count With Differential (CBC)
A CBC checks the health of your red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, which helps detect diseases and whether you’re anemic (have low red blood cell counts).
These are considered to be normal blood count ranges:
- White blood cell count: 5,000-10,000
- Hematocrit (amount of blood made up of red cells): Men 40%-55%, Women 36%-48%.
- Hemoglobin (part of red blood cell that carries oxygen): Men 14-18 gm/dL, Women 12-16 gm/dL.
Hemoglobin A1c (HgA1c)
The hemoglobin A1c (HgA1c) is used to diagnose diabetes. It reflects your average blood sugar levels over the last 2-3 months.
- Ideal level: 5.6 or lower
- Prediabetes: 5.7-6.4
- Diabetes: 6.5 or higher
- Goal for diabetic patients: Less than 6.5-7
Fasting Glucose (also called fasting blood sugar)
High levels of fasting glucose can mean you have diabetes or are insulin-resistant.
- Ideal level: less than 100 mg/dL
- Prediabetes: 110-125 mg/dL
- Diabetes: 126 mg/dL or higher on two separate tests
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas to control blood sugar. High levels are associated with obesity, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, heart and blood vessel disease, and stroke.
Normal range is considered to be 1-24 U/ml.
Your routine physical is anything but routine. You should be getting an annual physical examination to keep tabs on your overall health, especially after age 40. A lipid panel is a critical part of your healthcare. It can expose many heart-health issues.
Talk to your doctor about getting your blood tested. You can also check out our guide “Midlife Health Screenings for Men and Women.” This checklist will help break down the medical tests you need and at what age.