Screening For High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is present in every cell in your body—but that’s not actually a bad thing. Your body actually uses different forms of cholesterol to make hormones, process vitamin D and digest foods.

Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs itself, but cholesterol is also found in the food we eat. This means that many people end up with more cholesterol than they need, which can be dangerous.

Why is Medical Screening for High Cholesterol Important?

High cholesterol is a serious health problem. According to the American Heart Association (n.d.), as your cholesterol levels rise, so does your risk of coronary heart disease. Although you can’t control some things—such as your age, gender or genetics—your high cholesterol risk is something you can manage.

Excess cholesterol can lead to the buildup of plaque on your arterial walls. This can narrow your arteries—a condition called “atherosclerosis,” or hardening of the arteries.

When the arteries narrow, it’s harder for blood to flow. Plaque in the arteries flowing to the heart causes coronary heart disease and increases the risk for angina and heart attacks. When the arteries flowing to the brain are narrowed, risk of stroke increases. Plaques can also burst, causing blood clots and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Reducing high cholesterol can reduce the risk of plaque buildup.

Although high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, it rarely causes symptoms. This is why doctors advise health screening for high cholesterol.

Is a High Cholesterol Medical Screening Right for Me?

The National Cholesterol Education Program at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (2008) recommends that all adults over 20 have a complete lipid health screening every five years. A more frequent medical screening test may be recommended due to:

  • Age (over 45 for men and 50 for women)
  • Elevated total cholesterol (over 200 mg/dL)
  • Low HDL (under 40 mg/dL of “good cholesterol”).

How Does High Cholesterol Health Screening Work?

Cholesterol travels through your body through lipoproteins. A complete lipid panel, the most comprehensive medical screening test for high cholesterol, measures:

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or “good cholesterol”
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or “bad cholesterol”
  • Triglycerides, a fat in the blood that’s affected by diet and triggers the liver to produce excess cholesterol.

Health screening for high cholesterol reviews and analyzes your cholesterol and triglycerides levels and determines your risk for stroke and heart disease. For example, high levels of triglycerides, combined with low HDL and high LDL, can cause your arteries to harden.

After a High Cholesterol Medical Screening Test

If a health screening test reveals high cholesterol, your doctor will help you find ways to lower these readings through lifestyle changes and/or medication. This may include:

  • Adopting an exercise plan
  • Cutting back on cholesterol and fat in your diet
  • Eating a high-fiber diet
  • Losing weight
  • Taking cholesterol-lowering medication
  • Quitting smoking.

Resources

American Heart Association. (n.d.). Cholesterol. Retrieved October 19, 2010, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/Cholesterol_UCM_001089_SubHomePage.jsp

Life Line Screening. (n.d.). High cholesterol screening. Retrieved October 19, 2010, from http://www.lifelinescreening.com/health-screening-services/heart-disease/high-cholesterol.aspx

Mayo Clinic. (2010). High cholesterol. Retrieved October 19, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/peripheral-arterial-disease/DS00537

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. (2008). What is cholesterol? Retrieved October 19, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Hbc/HBC_WhatIs.html