Too much cholesterol (“koh-LEHS-tuh-rahl”) in your blood can cause heart disease or a heart attack. About 1 in 6 American adults has high cholesterol.
You could have high cholesterol and not know it. The good news is that it’s easy to get your cholesterol checked. And if your cholesterol is high, you can take steps to control it.
Who needs to get their cholesterol checked?
- Men age 35 and older
- Men under age 35 who have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease
- Women who have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease
How do I know if I have risk factors for heart disease?
Risk factors for heart disease include:
- A family history of early heart disease
- Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- High blood pressure
Talk to your doctor or nurse about your risk factors for heart disease. Ask about getting your cholesterol checked.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance (material) that is naturally found in your body.
Your body needs cholesterol to do important things, like make hormones and digest fatty foods. Your body makes all of the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol is also in some foods, like egg yolks, fatty meats, and regular cheese.
If you have too much cholesterol in your body, it can build up inside your blood vessels and make it hard for blood to flow. Over time, this can lead to heart disease and heart attack.
How can I get my cholesterol checked?
Ask your doctor or nurse for a blood test called a lipid profile to measure your cholesterol levels.
A small sample of blood will be taken from your finger or arm. Usually you can’t eat or drink anything (except water or sugar-free drinks) for 9 to 12 hours before the test.
How often do I need to get my cholesterol checked?
The general recommendation is to get your cholesterol checked every 5 years. Some people need to get it checked more or less often. Talk to your doctor about what’s best for you.
What do the numbers mean?
Your lipid profile will measure 4 things:
- Total cholesterol
- HDL (good) cholesterol
- LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Triglycerides (“try-GLIH-suh-rydz”)
A total cholesterol level under 200 is good.
This is the good type of cholesterol that lowers your risk for heart disease.
- An HDL cholesterol level over 60 helps protect against heart disease.
- An HDL cholesterol level under 40 is a major risk factor for heart disease.
This is the bad type of cholesterol that can block your arteries.
- If you are at low risk for heart disease, having LDL cholesterol under 160 is good.
- If you have heart disease, diabetes, or a history of stroke, keep your LDL cholesterol under 100.
- For most other people, having LDL cholesterol under 130 is good.
Triglycerides (“try-GLIH-suh-rydz”) are a type of fat in your blood. Keep this number under 150.
Find out more about getting your cholesterol checked.
What could raise my cholesterol?
Many things can lead to too much cholesterol in your body, like:
- Family history – high cholesterol can run in families.
- Age – as you get older, your cholesterol goes up.
- Weight – being overweight or obese.
- Eating habits – eating too much saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
- Physical activity – not getting enough physical activity.
There are no signs or symptoms of high cholesterol. That’s why it’s so important to get your cholesterol checked.
What if I have high cholesterol?
As your cholesterol gets higher, so does your risk of heart disease. Take these steps to lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease:
Ask your doctor if you also need a special diet or medicine to help lower your cholesterol.
To learn more, watch this short presentation on managing cholesterol.