What Affects Cholesterol Levels
There are a variety of factors that can affect cholesterol levels. Some risk factors are within your control, while others are not:
- Genetics: These factors include familial hypercholesterolemia and a family history of heart disease.
- Sex: Males often have higher levels of LDL. After menopause, a woman’s LDL levels can also increase.
- Weight: People who are overweight or obese are at increased risk of having high cholesterol.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Lack of physical activity can increase the risk of overweight and obesity and, in turn, increase cholesterol levels.
- Diet: Overall diet quality can affect cholesterol in a negative way, including eating too many saturated and trans fats and not enough fiber.
- Age: Your body’s ability to clear cholesterol can be impacted as you age.
- Race and ethnicity: There are different rates of high cholesterol based on race/ethnicity and sex, with the highest rates among males in Hispanics and the highest rates among females in non-Hispanic Whites.
- Smoking: Smoking can increase your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol.
- Other medical conditions: Having a previous history of high cholesterol, heart disease, or diabetes can increase your risk of developing high cholesterol.
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Why Test Your Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol can be an important indicator of your health. High levels of LDL cholesterol or low levels of HDL cholesterol can put you at risk for heart disease and stroke. Currently, the CDC estimates that over 95 million adults age 20 or over have high cholesterol.As a result, its important that individuals schedule cholesterol screenings to check their cholesterol levels, especially since most people with high cholesterol levels will not present any symptoms. Furthermore, if you have risk factors for high cholesterol, you may face additional risk for heart disease and stroke.
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What Do The Results Mean
Cholesterol is usually measured in milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood. The information below shows how the different types of cholesterol measurements are categorized.
|Total Cholesterol Level|
|Less than 40 mg/dL||A major risk factor for heart disease|
A healthy cholesterol range for you may depend on your age, family history, lifestyle, and other risk factors. In general, low LDL levels and high HDL cholesterol levels are good for heart health. High levels of triglycerides may also put you at risk for heart disease.
The LDL on your results may say “calculated” which means it includes a calculation of total cholesterol, HDL, and triglycerides. Your LDL level may also be measured “directly,” without using other measurements. Regardless, you want your LDL number to be low.
Learn more about laboratory tests, reference ranges, and understanding results.
An Easy And Important Test
High cholesterol usually has no symptoms. Thats why its important to have your doctor check your cholesterol levels with a simple blood test.;
It may be a “fasting” or “non-fasting” lipoprotein profile. Your doctor will tell you if you should fast before your test.
In the test, a health care professional takes a sample of your blood. If additional blood tests are needed, all the samples are usually taken at once. Discomfort is usually minor.
After the blood sample is taken, its analyzed in a laboratory, where the levels of HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides are measured. Your test report will show your cholesterol level in milligrams per deciliter of blood .
To determine your cardiovascular risk, your doctor will consider your cholesterol test results in context with your age, sex and family history. Other risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure, will be considered as well.;If your risk remains uncertain, and treatment options are unclear, your healthcare professional may consider other factors and/or request a coronary artery calcium measurement;to provide greater insight into your risk and help in decision-making.
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How To Get Your Cholesterol Levels Checked
You can buy a test kit that will allow you to check your cholesterol levels at home, but they vary in how accurate they are. Kits that are approved by the FDA and say they’re traceable to a CDC program may be more accurate.
Given the lack of quality control on home health measurements like at-home testing kits, Dr. Fleg says, blood lipids should be measured by an accredited medical laboratory.
The AHA agrees, recommending that a primary care or family doctor assess blood lipid test results.
Getting an accurate cholesterol number is just one aspect of your overall cardiovascular health. You also have to understand what the number means for you personally.
Informed about your health history, family health history, and other risk factors, your doctor will be able to interpret the results better than a test kit. And by keeping track of all your cholesterol readings, your doctor will be able to catch any changes and advise you the best ways to address them.
How Often Should You Get Blood Work Done
- How Often Should You Get Blood …
4 min Read Time
Its not uncommon for your doctor to recommend blood tests from time to time. However, some people aren’t clear on what these tests actually entail.
The tests that your doctor orders will likely depend on several factors, including:
If you have concerns about your health and would like to talk with a doctor about blood tests, CareNow® urgent care is a great choice.
Open seven days a week and available on a walk-in basis, CareNow offers over 50 different medical tests and exams for patients over 3 months old.
Some lab tests, such as a complete blood count,; can be performed on-site for quick diagnosis and treatment.
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Getting Help For Your Child
If you are worried about your child’s weight, consider consulting with a registered dietitian or expressing your concerns with your pediatrician.
Children can benefit from getting involved in meal planning, shopping, and cooking, reducing intake of sweetened beverages, and learning how to eat more fruits and vegetables. Being a good role model and getting the entire family on board is also important for making changes and providing your child with confidence.
Is There Anything Else I Need To Know About My Cholesterol Levels
High cholesterol can lead to heart disease, the number one cause of death in the United States. While some risk factors for cholesterol, such as age and heredity, are beyond your control, there are actions you can take to lower your LDL levels and reduce your risk, including:
- Eating a healthy diet. Reducing or avoiding foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol can help reduce the cholesterol levels in your blood.
- Losing weight. Being overweight can increase your cholesterol and risk for heart disease.
- Staying active.;Regular exercise may help lower your LDL cholesterol levels and raise your HDL cholesterol levels. It may also help you lose weight.
Talk to your health care provider before making any major change in your diet or exercise routine.
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Make An Appointment To Get Your Cholesterol Checked
You may also want to print these;questions to ask your doctor about cholesterol ;and take them to your appointment.
What about cost?
Cholesterol testing is covered under the;Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get your cholesterol checked at no cost to you. For more information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act,;visit;HealthCare.gov.
Even if you don’t have insurance, you can still get your cholesterol checked. To learn more,;find a health center near you.
Preparing For Your Cholesterol Test
Your doctor or nurse will tell you if there is anything special you need to do in the days before your blood is drawn for the test. How you’ll prepare depends on the types of cholesterol test your doctor ordered.
Non-fasting blood lipid tests analyze only total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. If you’re getting this type of test, you can eat, drink, and take medication as usual.
Fasting lipid panels give you the whole picture when it comes to your cholesterol levels. For this test, you’ll need to fastavoid food and drink, except plain waterand go off medications for nine to 12 hours before the test.
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What Are Risk Factors For High Blood Cholesterol
Lifestyle, some health conditions, and family history can raise your risk for high cholesterol. Your doctor may suggest you have your cholesterol checked more often if you have risk factors, such as the following:
- A family history of heart disease or high blood cholesterol. You are more at risk of having high cholesterol if other people in your family have it. This may be due to genetics, but it may also be that families share the same unhealthy lifestyle habits. Some people also have a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, which can cause high levels of low-density lipoprotein , or bad, cholesterol from a young age.
- Diabetes.;Type 2 diabetes raises bad cholesterol and lowers high-density lipoprotein , or good, cholesterol, raising the risk for heart disease and stroke.
- Older age.;As you age, your body cant clear cholesterol as well as it used to.
- Being male.;Men tend to have higher LDL and lower HDL cholesterol levels than women do. But after menopause , LDL cholesterol levels in women increase.4,5
- Having overweight or obesity.;Excess weight, unhealthy eating habits, and lack of physical activity can lead to high cholesterol.
- Previously having had high cholesterol.;If you have a history of high cholesterol, your doctor may want you to keep a closer watch on your cholesterol.
Your doctor may tell you not to eat or drink anything except water for 9 to 12 hours before the test.
Should I Get A Public Cholesterol Test
Public cholesterol testing can be convenient and helpful. But most doctors will want to verify public test results. Because the doctor can evaluate risk factors and provide counselling, having your cholesterol level checked during a doctor visit is the preferred method.
The reliability of public cholesterol tests at health fairs, malls, pharmacies, and other sites depends on many factors, including:
- What kind of blood sample is used .
- What type of equipment is used.
- Whether the equipment is used properly.
- How well the technicians have been trained.
You may wish to ask the technicians how much training they have had and how your blood sample will be handled.
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Why Do Some Blood Tests Require Fasting
Everything you eat and drink contains vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients that can cause the related levels in your blood to temporarily spike or drop.
Fasting for 812 hours helps ensure that blood test results are free from these variables, making your test results as accurate as possible.
Some common tests that may require fasting include:
- cholesterol tests
Results may take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to become available. Heres an overview of how long some common tests may take:
- complete blood count : 24 hours
- basic metabolic panel: 24 hours
- complete metabolic panel: 2472 hours
- lipid panel: 24 hours.
This can depend on the specific lab where you get tested or how many tests you get done at once. If you order multiple tests, you may not get the complete results until all of the tests are completed.
Sometimes a lab will only release results to your doctor, who reviews them and then releases them to you.
What Age Should I Get Screened For High Blood Cholesterol
About 1 in 5 adolescents have an unhealthy cholesterol reading,1 and nearly 93 million U.S. adults age 20 or older have high cholesterol.2 But since high cholesterol doesnt have symptoms, many people dont know their levels are high.
Cholesterol should be checked starting early in lifeeven children and adolescents should have their cholesterol checked.
Cholesterol testing should be done
- Every 5 years for people age 20 or older who are at low risk for cardiovascular disease.3
- More frequently than every 5 years for people with cardiovascular disease risk factors.3
The 2018 ACC/AHA Guidelines recommend that cholesterol management be based on a persons lifetime cardiovascular risk.1
If your family has a history of early heart attacks or heart disease, or if a child has obesity or diabetes, doctors may recommend screening for high cholesterol more often.
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How To Read Your Results
Your blood will likely be checked using a test called a total lipid profile. To understand your cholesterol test results, youll need to know the different types of cholesterol that the test measures and whats considered normal, potentially risky, and high.
Heres a breakdown of each type. Keep in mind that people who have conditions such as diabetes may need to aim for even lower numbers.
What Does The Test Measure
An LDL cholesterol test checks the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Results are typically measured in milligrams per deciliter .
Cholesterol is a fatty substance your body naturally creates to help in digesting food, creating hormones, and making vitamin D. Cholesterol is made up of different types of lipoproteins, which are a combination of fats, also known as lipids, and proteins. Lipids connect to proteins to be able to move through your blood. Cholesterol testing often measures different substances in the blood:
- High-density cholesterol: HDL carries cholesterol from other parts of your body to your liver for processing and removal and is considered the good cholesterol.
- Low-density cholesterol: LDL is known as the bad cholesterol because too much of it in your blood can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries, putting you at risk of heart disease, diabetes, or stroke.
- Triglycerides:;Triglycerides are fats created by the foods we eat. These fats are stored until your body needs energy. Triglycerides are processed by your body when it needs energy. Having high levels of triglycerides can lead to coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular issues.
- Very low-density cholesterol: VLDL is similar to LDL cholesterol but carries triglycerides through the blood. VLDL can contribute to plaque buildup and is considered a bad cholesterol.
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Why Cholesterol Screening Is So Important
Your body needs some cholesterol to perform certain functions. But whentheres too much of it circulating in your blood, it can start to build up onthe inside walls of your blood vessels, which restricts the flow of blood toyour heart and brain. Eventually, this could cause a heart attack or stroke.
Statin therapy and certain lifestyle changes are effective ways to bring high cholesterol down to a healthy range. But most people wont know that they have high cholesterol just by the way they feel.
Thats where screening comes in. A lipid panel is an easy, inexpensive screening blood test that can be very helpful in identifying patients that are at risk for cardiovascular disease, explains preventive cardiologist Luke Laffin, MD.
Preparation For A Cholesterol Test
In some cases, your doctor may ask you to fast before having your cholesterol levels tested. If youre only getting your HDL and total cholesterol levels checked, you may be able to eat beforehand. However, if youre having a complete lipid profile done, you should avoid eating or drinking anything other than water for nine to 12 hours before your test.
Before your test, you should also tell your doctor about:
- any symptoms or health problems youre experiencing
- your family history of heart health
- all medications and supplements that youre currently taking
If youre taking medications that could increase your cholesterol levels, such as birth control pills, your doctor may ask you to stop taking them a few days before your test.
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How To Get Tested
Cholesterol tests are usually done using blood that is drawn from a vein in your arm. This procedure is typically done in a doctors office, clinic, or medical lab. When the laboratory analyzes your blood, total cholesterol is frequently measured along with other types of cholesterol in a lipid panel test that is ordered by your doctor.
Total cholesterol can also be measured with rapid, point-of-care testing. This kind of test requires putting a drop of blood from your finger on a special test strip that is inserted into a small device, giving results within minutes. Point-of-care testing is used in some medical offices and clinics and may also be found at health fairs.
Other Factors Affecting Your Triglycerides Level
The frequency of having your triglycerides level checked will definitely depend on your current health status, your age, and your personal and family history. Other factors that can affect the level of your triglycerides include medications. These include some blood pressure meds, Accutane, steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs. In addition, even some drugs that work to lower your cholesterol can increase your triglyceride levels. If you are taking any medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist as to how often you should have your triglycerides level checked.
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How Can I Keep Healthy Blood Cholesterol Levels
Talk to your doctor about your numbers. Your risk of disease depends on other factors, too, in combination with high cholesterol. To keep your cholesterol managed, you should do the following:
- Choose healthy foods. Limit foods that are high in saturated or trans fats, sugar, and sodium . Choose foods high in fiber, such as fresh fruits and veggies, and in unsaturated fats, such as avocados and nuts. Learn more about healthy eatingexternal icon.
- Stay physically active.;You should get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as biking or brisk walking, every week.6Learn more about physical activityexternal icon.
- Dont smoke. Smoking damages the blood vessels and greatly increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. If you dont smoke, dont start. If you smoke, learn how to quit.
- Take medicine if necessary.;A healthy diet and physical activity can help many people reach healthy cholesterol levels, but some people may need medicines to lower their cholesterol. Always take your medicine as prescribed.
Learn more about ways to prevent high cholesterol.