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High Cholesterol: Assessing Your Risk

Doctor talking with patient.

Have you been told that your cholesterol is too high? If so, you could be heading for a heart attack, also known as acute myocardial infarction, or AMI, or stroke without knowing it. This is especially true if you have other risk factors for heart disease. Get smart about cholesterol and your heart disease risk. This sheet can help you understand your heart disease risk and how your cholesterol level affects it. Talk to your health care provider about how to get started 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.

3 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. Test your cholesterol

Cholesterol testing most often needs no preparation. Sometimes you may be asked to fast (not eat) before your test. A blood sample is taken and sent to a lab. There, the amount of cholesterol and triglyceride in your blood is measured. There are 2 types of cholesterol in the sample. The first is HDL (“good cholesterol”). The second is LDL (“bad cholesterol”). Cholesterol test results are most often shown as the total of HDL and LDL cholesterol numbers. You may also be told the separate HDL and LDL cholesterol results.

Fill in your numbers below.

HDL cholesterol:                           LDL cholesterol:                         Total cholesterol:                         Triglyceride:                        

Step 3. Discuss the results with your health care provider 

If your cholesterol levels are higher than normal, your health care provider will help you with steps to take to lower your levels. Steps may include lifestyle changes like diet, physical activity, and quitting smoking, and medication.  

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell art team.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/8/2014
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