Risk factors for heart disease
When should I start having my cholesterol level checked?
- Already had a heart attack
- A man, 45 years of age or older
- A woman, 55 years of age or older
- A woman who is going through menopause or has completed menopause
- Have an immediate family member (parent or sibling) who has had heart disease
- Cigarette smoking
- High blood pressure or diabetes
- Overweight or obese
You can’t tell if you have high cholesterol without having it checked. All men aged 35 and older and women aged 45 and older with other heart disease risk factors should have their cholesterol checked every 5 years. If your cholesterol level is high or you have other risk factors for heart disease (see the box above), you may need to have it checked sooner and more often.
A blood test known as a lipid panel is usually the way cholesterol is checked. Are there different types of cholesterol?
Cholesterol travels through the blood in different types of bundles, called lipoproteins.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) delivers cholesterol to the body. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) removes cholesterol from the bloodstream.
This explains why too much LDL cholesterol is bad for the body, and why a high level of HDL is good. The balance between the types of cholesterol tells you what your cholesterol level means (see the box below).
For example, if your total cholesterol level is high because of a high LDL level, you may be at higher risk of heart disease or stroke. If your total level is high only because of a high HDL level, you're probably not at higher risk. Total cholesterol level
LDL cholesterol levels
- Less than 200 is best.
- 200 to 239 is borderline high.
- 240 or more means you're at increased risk for heart disease.
HDL cholesterol levels
- Below 100 is ideal for people who have a higher risk of heart disease.
- 100 to 129 is near optimal.
- 130 to 159 is borderline high.
- 160 or more means you're at a higher risk for heart disease.
What can I do to improve my cholesterol level?
- Less than 40 means you're at higher risk for heart disease.
- 60 or higher greatly reduces your risk of heart disease.
If you have high cholesterol, it may be necessary for you to make some lifestyle changes. If you smoke, quit. Exercise regularly. If you're overweight, losing just 10 to 20 kilograms can help improve your cholesterol levels. Make sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish- all of which promote heart health. Avoid saturated and trans fats, which can raise cholesterol levels. Also limit your overall cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day and 200 milligrams if you have heart disease. What about medicine to lower cholesterol?
Depending on your risk factors, if healthy eating and exercise don't work to lower your cholesterol level, your doctor may suggest medicine.