What do my cholesterol tests mean?
Jason Brown, MD, is an internist on staff at Banner Estella Medical Center. His office can be reached at (623) 873-8236.
Question: How often should I have my cholesterol checked? What types of results indicate a need for cholesterol-lowering medication?
Answer: Cholesterol screenings do not necessarily detect an illness or disease, but rather test for your future potential of heart disease and stroke. The blood test is simple, preventative and an important guide in maintaining your healthy heart and circulatory system.
At least yearly, screens should be performed in those with known coronary heart disease, carotid artery disease or peripheral vascular disease. Other risk factors that warrant frequent screening include diabetes, hypertension, tobacco use and obesity.
It has been suggested that by the age of 20, everyone should have their cholesterol panel checked. This is highly recommended for those with a family history of vascular disease, or who may have other risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
In young, healthy individuals, cholesterol levels ought to be checked about every five years if their first cholesterol check was normal.
A cholesterol panel measures four main components: total cholesterol, good cholesterol (HDL), bad cholesterol (LDL), and triglycerides.
The higher the total cholesterol, the more likely cholesterol will build up on artery walls and increase the potential for blockage. The ideal total cholesterol level is below 200.
Good cholesterol (HDL) carries cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver. This can slow plaque build-up and protect against heart attacks. HDL levels near 60 are considered ideal for preventing heart disease.
Bad cholesterol (LDL) builds on artery walls, narrowing the vessels and increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. Each patient’s target LDL varies, depending on whether you have established coronary heart disease or based on the number of risk factors you have for coronary heart disease. Talk to your doctor about what your ideal LDL should be.
For those with elevated cholesterol levels, depending on how high, a doctor may first recommend certain dietary, exercise and lifestyle changes before prescribing cholesterol-lowering medications. However, if the cholesterol level is not well controlled by these means, the addition of medication can be helpful in reducing and maintaining cholesterol levels. These drugs have been found to be very effective.
Your physician can help you determine when to have your cholesterol checked and which treatment options are best for you.