How Often Should I Check My… Blood?


Annoying as it is, there are parts of our bodies we should be getting checked out way more often than we do. Alongside our expert advisor Dr. Marc Leavey, primary care physician, we’re here to find out what we should be doing, why we should be doing it, and of course, how often. This edition: We want to see your blood, mwa-ha-ha…

Sometimes I put my arm in that inflating machine at the drug store. That’s enough, right?

Not exactly. That’s a blood pressure check, but there are other things you should be checking your blood for on a semi-regular basis.


Well, you can test the blood for all manner of things, but in most cases, that will only happen as a result of a direct symptom—a doctor will normally test your blood if, say, you’re feeling overly lethargic. But you should be getting both your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly. If you’re under 30, going in every three years for a routine check up should be fine. Once you reach your mid-30s, you should visit your doctor every other year. And once you hit 50, you should get checked out every year. If you smoke or drink a lot, all bets are off, so you should consider going more often.

Let’s start with the one without the needle. What is blood pressure, anyway?

Okay, so it works like this. The heart is a pump, but it’s not a constant pump: it’s a pulsatile pump, which means it pumps, then rests, then pumps again, then rests again. When it pumps, it generates pressure in the arteries. That force is being put on the blood in the system and is called blood pressure.

What are the two numbers they give you afterwards? I usually just smile and nod…

You are not alone! The high number is systolic pressure, which is how much pressure is being put on the system when the heart is pumping. The low number is diastolic pressure, which is how much pressure is being put on the system when the heart is resting in between beats. A healthy blood pressure reading is less than 120 systolic and 80 diastolic. Once you hit 140 systolic and 90 diastolic, you officially have high blood pressure.

What happens if those numbers are high? Will it kill me?!

High blood pressure will absolutely kill you. If it blows a leak in your heart or in your brain, you’re looking at a heart attack or a stroke.

Well #*&%!!! What causes blood pressure to go up?

The main cause of high blood pressure is what doctors call hypertension, which basically means that your blood pressure is up because—no fooling—your blood pressure is up. In other words, it’s just the way your body is constructed. If that’s the case, your doctor can prescribe medications to keep it down.

So what about the cholesterol?

You want your cholesterol levels to be under 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood. There are two kinds of cholesterol: LDL, which is the bad kind, and HDL, which is the good kind. You want your LDL to be under 130 mg/dL and your HDL to be at least 20 percent of the total cholesterol. If your overall cholesterol is too high, it’s a lot like blood pressure in the sense that you can end up with a stroke or a heart attack.

Wonderful. How can I keep it down then?

The two main reasons for high cholesterol are your diet and your genes. If you have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, you’re more likely to have high cholesterol. Eating a lot of fatty foods or being overweight will also cause this.

So is there any way of checking all that stuff without sticking a needle in me?

Afraid not, sorry!

Can’t that machine at the drug store, like…

No the machine at drug store cannot check your cholesterol.

Worth a shot, right?

Sure. Now go see a doctor.