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Cholesterol Screening

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance made and used by the body. It is also found in some of the foods that you eat. If there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it starts to collect and harden on the walls of your arteries, which blocks blood flow. High blood cholesterol is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

There are two main types of cholesterol: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is known as "bad" cholesterol. It sticks to the artery walls. HDL, on the other hand, is considered "good" cholesterol because it actually helps remove the bad cholesterol from artery walls. It is ideal to have a low LDL level and high HDL level.

Why is cholesterol screening important?

Cholesterol screening tells you if you have too much cholesterol in your bloodstream. If you are aware that you have a high blood cholesterol level, you can take steps to reduce this level and, therefore, reduce your risk of heart disease.

Cholesterol screening measures how many milligrams of cholesterol are present in a deciliter of your blood (mg/dl). A sample of your blood can be taken to measure your total cholesterol level. It may also be used to measure your HDL and LDL levels.

General guidelines for blood cholesterol levels are listed below:

Total Cholesterol LDL HDL
Good <200 mg/dl Good <100 mg/dl Good 50+ mg/dl
Not Good (High) 200+ mg/dl Not Good (High) 130+ mg/dl Not Good (Low) <35 mg/dl

Who needs cholesterol screening?

Cholesterol screening is recommended at least every 5 years for men ages 35-75 and women ages 45-75. If you have a family history of very high cholesterol and other risk factors for heart disease (high blood pressure, smoking, inactive lifestyle, obesity, and diabetes), you are at increased risk for high cholesterol and its complications. Your doctor may ask you to be screened more often.

What can I do to prevent high blood cholesterol?

  • Watch what you eat: Learn how to read food labels. Stick to foods low in fat (especially saturated fat) and low in cholesterol in order to lower LDL levels.

  • Keep active: Regular exercise increases your HDL levels.

  • Stop smoking: Quitting also increases your HDL levels.

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