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Understanding high cholesterol

High cholesterol: Assessing your risk

Have you been told that your cholesterol is too high? If so, you are at increased risk for a heart attack or stroke. This is especially true if you have other risk factors for heart disease. Take steps to lower your cholesterol. The following information can help you understand your heart disease risk and how your cholesterol level affects it. Talk to your doctor for more information on how to start controlling your cholesterol.

Why is high cholesterol a problem?

Blood cholesterol is a fatty substance. It travels through the bloodstream. When blood cholesterol is high, it forms plaque. The plaque builds up in the walls of arteries (blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the body). This narrows the opening for blood flow. Over time, this can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack, or stroke.

Three steps to assessing your risk

Step 1: Find your risk factors for heart disease

How your cholesterol numbers affect your heart health depends on other risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Check off each risk factor below that applies to you:

• Are you a man 45 years old or older or a woman 55 years old or older?
• Does your family have a history of heart problems? (This includes heart attack, coronary heart disease, or atherosclerosis.)
• Do you have high blood pressure? Are you on blood pressure medication?
• Do you smoke?
• Do you have diabetes?

Step 2: Have your cholesterol tested

Cholesterol testing most often needs no preparation. However, you may be asked to fast (not eat) a certain amount of time before your test. For the test, a blood sample is taken, which is then sent to a lab. There, the amount of cholesterol in your blood is measured. Cholesterol test results are usually given as a measure of total cholesterol as well as separate HDL and LDL cholesterol numbers.

Step 3: Set your LDL cholesterol goal

Once you know your LDL cholesterol number, take steps to lower it if needed. Ask your doctor to help you determine what your target LDL cholesterol should be and how to get started on a plan to reach your goal. Changes to your diet and lifestyle might help lower the amount of cholesterol in your blood.


Information courtesy of U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

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