Questions like “How can I test my cholesterol?” are an indication that you’re health-conscious. There are several easy ways to test your cholesterol levels. The choice about where to get a cholesterol test is yours. If you have high cholesterol, chances are good that you have no symptoms. That’s the reason it’s vitally important to check your cholesterol with a simple and painless blood test.
Why You Should Test Your Cholesterol
Cholesterol is naturally found in the blood. It’s a waxy substance that the body needs to build new cells. However, too much cholesterol may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. You probably won’t experience symptoms if you have high cholesterol. Unfortunately, high cholesterol can cause fatty deposits in the circulatory system. As the deposits enlarge, the heart must work harder to pump blood through the vessels. It’s also possible for these fatty deposits to break from the arteries or form clots that cause a stroke or heart attack.
High Cholesterol and Lifestyle Choices
It’s possible to inherit the tendency to have high cholesterol. Much of the time, high cholesterol levels result from unwise lifestyle choices. That’s why your doctor may prescribe regular exercise, a healthy diet, and medications when required to reduce cholesterol. A cholesterol test is the only way to know if you have high cholesterol. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) researchers recommend the first cholesterol screening around age 10, with subsequent tests at five-year intervals. Men between the ages of 45-65 and women between the ages of 55-65 should receive annual or bi-annual cholesterol screens. All persons aged 65 and older should have cholesterol levels tested each year.
How to Treat High Cholesterol
If your cholesterol tests show higher than normal ranges, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes and follow-up cholesterol screens to measure progress. If other members of your family have high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, or other risk factors, your doctor will usually order frequent follow-up cholesterol testing.
Cholesterol Tests and Measurements
You may take a cholesterol test on a fasting or non-fasting basis. Your doctor will let you know if it’s necessary for you to avoid eating, drinking, or taking some medicines nine – 12 hours before your blood draw. A phlebotomist or other health care worker draws your blood sample. If several tests are necessary, the blood samples are often gathered at once.
After your blood samples are taken, a laboratory analyzes them. Your cholesterol screen will show cholesterol levels in milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL):
- LDL (low density, or “bad” cholesterol), HDL (high density, or “good” cholesterol), and triglyceride (circulating blood fats) levels are measured in your cholesterol screening test.
- If you submitted to a non-fasting test, only total cholesterol levels and HDL will be reported.
- To assess your heart disease risk, the doctor considers cholesterol test measures in accordance with your family history, age, and sex.
- If you smoke or have other risks factors, e.g. diabetes or high blood pressure, the doctor will also consider these. Most medical researchers believe that a healthy person’s total cholesterol levels should be no higher than 200 mg/dL. LDL level should be less than 100 mg/dL, HDL levels should be 60+ mg/dL, and triglycerides should be lower than 150 mg/dL. In some instances, more tests may be needed to fully assess your health risks and treatment options. Additional tests, e.g. the coronary artery calcium test (CAC) may offer more insights to your doctor.
How Frequently Should You Get a Cholesterol Test?
The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that adults over the age of 20 should receive cholesterol screens every four to six years if their risk is low. Adults over the age of 40 should be evaluated for the risk of heart attack and stroke. Regardless of age, those with existing heart disease (or those at increased risk of heart disease) may want to check cholesterol levels more often.
Where Should I Check My Cholesterol Levels?
Your primary doctor’s office is probably the best place for you to check cholesterol levels. Cholesterol levels are one factor in an array of items that affect cardiovascular health. Your doctor also best understands your personal medical history, your family history, and other additional risk factors. Public cholesterol screens don’t usually require you to fast before taking blood samples. These cholesterol tests typically measure both total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels. However, if the screen doesn’t measure your HDL level, your total cholesterol figure is still valuable information. If you get cholesterol screen results from another source, share the information with your primary doctor. The new data can help them to evaluate your heart health risk. Considering your total health picture, including body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and fasting blood sugar profiles must be regularly measured as part of your personal medical care plan. Most importantly, schedule your cholesterol test now by calling 205-352-9141.