Health Library

Categories > Heart Health > Heart disease: Causes and risks

Your blueprint for a healthy heart

Many factors enter into play when it comes to assessing your heart’s fortitude. How healthy are your blood vessels? Can you process sugar well? Does your blood have high levels of fats? How hard does your heart have to work to pump blood throughout your body?

The answers lie in the numbers—the results of a series of measurements and screenings taken to determine your heart’s health. Routinely checking your numbers and being screened can reveal a problem long before you have any symptoms. This will give you and your doctor the chance to take early corrective action—whether it’s through lifestyle changes or drug therapy—to prevent a health crisis. Below is a look at common measurements and what they mean. Does your heart measure up?

What is it?What does it mean?How do you measure up?
Body mass index (BMI)A more revealing measurement than how many pounds you weigh, your BMI refers to the relationship between your weight and height.
  • Less than 25 is normal.
  • 25–29 is overweight.
  • 30 and greater is obese.
Waist circumferenceCarrying excess weight around your abdomen is especially bad for your heart.

  • Greater than 40 inches for men and greater than 35 inches for women is too large.

Blood pressureThis refers to the force of your blood pushing against your artery walls. When the force becomes too great (hypertension), it can lead to heart attack, stroke and more.
  • Less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg) is normal.
  • 120/80–139/89 mm/Hg is prehypertensive.
  • 140/90 mm/Hg and greater is high blood pressure.
CholesterolCholesterol, a fatlike substance, can build up on your artery walls, causing them to narrow and harden, thus decreasing the amount of blood that gets to the heart.
  • LDL—The “bad” type of cholesterol, LDL contributes to buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries. Aim for low levels of LDL.
  • HDL—The “good” type of cholesterol, HDL helps carry excess cholesterol to the liver to be eliminated from the body. Aim for higher levels of HDL.
  • Total cholesterol less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is desirable.
  • 200–239 mg/dL is borderline high.
  • 240 mg/dL and greater is high.
  • LDL less than 100 mg/dL is optimal.
  • 100–159 mg/dL is borderline high.
  • 160 mg/dL and greater is high.
TriglyceridesAnother form of fat in the blood that raises your risk for heart disease.
  • Less than 150 mg/dL is normal.
  • 150–199 mg/dL is borderline high.
  • 200 mg/dL and greater may need treatment.
C-reactive proteinAbnormal levels of this protein in the blood are associated with inflammation in the blood vessels, a sign of plaque buildup.
  • Less than 1 mg/L is low risk.
  • 1–3 mg/L is average risk.
  • 3 mg/L and greater is high risk.
Blood glucoseOver time, diabetes and high blood glucose levels damage blood vessels, leading to increased risk for heart disease and stroke.Fasting plasma glucose test:
  • Less than 100 mg/dL is normal.
  • 100–125 mg/dL is pre-diabetes.
  • 126 mg/dL and greater is diabetes.

Oral glucose tolerance test:
  • Less than 140 mg/dL is normal.
  • 140–199 mg/dL is pre-diabetes.
  • 200 mg/dL and greater is diabetes.