Your blood cholesterol level has a lot to do with your chances of getting heart disease. High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. A risk factor is a condition that increases your chance of getting a disease. In fact, the higher your blood cholesterol level, the greater your risk for developing heart disease or having a heart attack. Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. Each year,more than a million Americans have heart attacks, and about a half million people die from heart disease.
When there is too much cholesterol (a fat-like substance) in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries. Over time, this buildup causes “hardening of the arteries” so that arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart is slowed down or blocked. The blood carries oxygen to the heart, and if enough blood and oxygen cannot reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack. High blood cholesterol itself does not cause symptoms, so many people are unaware that their cholesterol level is too high. It is important to find out what your cholesterol numbers are because lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of a heart attack or dying of heart disease, even if you already have it.Cholesterol lowering is important for everyone–younger, middle age, and older adults; women
What Do Your Cholesterol Numbers Mean?
Everyone age 20 and older should have their cholesterol measured at least once every 5 years. It is best to have a blood test called a “lipoprotein profile” to find out your cholesterol numbers. This blood test is done after a 9- to 12-hour fast and gives information about your:
■ Total cholesterol
■ LDL (bad) cholesterol – the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries
■ HDL (good) cholesterol – helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries
■ Triglycerides – another form of fat in your blood
If it is not possible to get a lipoprotein profile done, knowing your total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol
can give you a general idea about your cholesterol levels. If your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL*
or more or if your HDL is less than 40 mg/dL, you will need to have a lipoprotein profile done.
See how your cholesterol numbers compare to the tables below.
HDL (good) cholesterol protects against heart disease, so for HDL, higher numbers are better.
A level less than 40 mg/dL is low and is considered a major risk factor because it increases your risk
for developing heart disease. HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or more help to lower your risk for heart disease.
Triglycerides can also raise heart disease risk. Levels that are borderline high (150-199 mg/dL)
or high (200 mg/dL or more) may need treatment in some people.
1. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Public Health Service
National Institutes of Health
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institut