Information Screening High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a wax-like substance produced by the liver and found in the blood. In optimal amounts, certain types of cholesterol help your body build healthy cells and digest fat.

Cholesterol is found in many foods, so many people may have too much cholesterol in their systems. High cholesterol can cause severe health problems including heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

High cholesterol causes no symptoms. The only way to find out if you have high cholesterol is to take a medical screening test. High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, the number one cause of death for both men and women.

The American Heart Association (2006) reports that in 2002, 50 percent of men and 64 percent of women who died suddenly had no previous symptoms of cardiovascular disease, making high cholesterol health screening very important.

What is High Cholesterol?

High cholesterol is a buildup of extra cholesterol in your system, resulting in the development of fatty deposits in the blood vessels. As these deposits accumulate, blood can’t efficiently pass through your arteries. If your heart doesn’t get enough oxygen because of decreased blood flow, a heart attack results. The lack of blood flow to the brain can cause a stroke.

Who is at Risk for High Cholesterol?

Certain lifestyles and genetic patterns put some people at a higher risk for high cholesterol than other people. Common risk factors include:

  • Being 20 pounds or more overweight, or having a body mass index of 25 or higher
  • Being a male over age 45 or a female over age 55
  • Doing less than 30 total minutes of physical activity on most days
  • Having a family history of heart attack or stroke
  • Having a history of heart attack, stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Having a total cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL or higher
  • Having an HDL or “good” cholesterol level of less than 40 mg/dL
  • Having diabetes or taking medication to control blood sugar
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Receiving a diagnosis of carotid artery disease or peripheral arterial disease
  • Smoking, or living or working with people who smoke every day.

How Does High Cholesterol Screening Work?

Health screening for high cholesterol requires a simple finger-prick blood test. You must fast for at least eight hours before this medical screening test.

The screening measures the levels of three lipids in your blood:

  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol)
  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol)
  • Triglycerides.

With these results, your doctor can determine your risk for heart disease and develop a treatment plan, if necessary. Ideally, your cholesterol should be at the following levels:

  • HDL cholesterol: 60 mg/dL or higher
  • LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: less than 150 md/dL.

Overall, your total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL. Levels higher than this indicate that you may be at risk for heart disease.

Adults over age 20 with no symptoms of heart disease should have a health screening for high cholesterol once every five years, while those with high cholesterol or heart disease should be screened every one to two years. Anyone taking medication to lower cholesterol should have a cholesterol test every four to six months.

Preventing High Cholesterol

Healthy lifestyle changes can go a long way toward preventing high cholesterol or lowering it if it’s already high. If you smoke, consider quitting. Drink alcohol in moderation or stop drinking entirely. If you’re overweight, lose the extra pounds. Follow a diet low in fat and sodium, and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

Resources

American Heart Association. (2006). Heart disease and stroke statistics. Retrieved August 30, 2010, from http://www.americanheart.org/downloadable/heart/113535864858055-1026_HS_Stats06book.pdf.

LifeLine Screening. (n.d.). High cholesterol screening. Retrieved August 29, 2010, from http://www.lifelinescreening.com/health-screening-services/heart-disease/high-cholesterol.aspx?WT.svl=1.

Mayo Clinic. (2010). High cholesterol. Retrieved August 29, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-cholesterol/DS00178.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). High blood cholesterol: What you need to know. Retrieved August 29, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/wyntk.htm.