Cholesterol: Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to worry about my cholesterol if I am young?
Take the screening criteria test in the “How do I determine my cholesterol level” section. If you have multiple risk factors or diabetes, the fact that you are young does not eliminate the possibility that you may have high cholesterol.
How useful is it to know my total cholesterol level?
Knowing your total cholesterol level is a good thing. But knowing your LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels is even better. By performing a full lipid profile, a healthcare professional can better determine your risk for cardiovascular disease and whether action is required.
What is LDL-C?
By far the most critical type of cholesterol is LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, cholesterol. This is considered to be the “bad” cholesterol since high levels of LDL-cholesterol in the blood can lead to an accumulation of cholesterol-filled plaque in the linings of the arteries of the heart or the brain. This leads to the narrowing of the inside of the artery and restriction of blood flow.
When the blood flow to the heart is restricted by this type of plaque build-up, the heart muscle becomes deprived of oxygen, causing chest pain (angina). The formation of a clot in the region of this plaque can more or less completely block the flow of blood to part of the heart muscle, thereby causing a heart attack (myocardial infarction). If a clot blocks the flow of blood to part of the brain, the result is a stroke.
What is HDL-C?
High-density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol is known as the “good” cholesterol because it helps to carry excess cholesterol away from the walls of the blood vessels, reducing plaque build-up. The HDL particles take the cholesterol back to the liver where it can be removed from the body. Research suggests that high levels of HDL-cholesterol may protect the heart from disease. However, HDL-cholesterol can only provide this protection when your LDL-cholesterol level is within the normal range.
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides (TG) are the chemical form in which most fat exists in food as well as in the body. Your liver also manufactures triglycerides by changing excess calories from carbohydrates, fat and proteins into triglycerides. High triglycerides have been connected with low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, which are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Recommendations for people with high triglyceride levels often include being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting sugar, alcohol and dietary fat, and being smoke-free. Medication may also be prescribed if these lifestyle changes aren’t effective.
What should my LDL-C level be?
An elevated LDL-cholesterol level means that you have more cholesterol in your blood than your body needs. The higher your LDL-cholesterol level, the greater your risk of developing coronary heart disease – the most common form of cardiovascular disease. Anyone can develop high LDL-cholesterol, no matter his or her age, weight, gender, race or ethnic background.
High cholesterol has no warning signs. So, you may be surprised to know that you have it. Do not be alarmed, but do take it seriously. You can lower your LDL-cholesterol level and bring down your risk of cardiovascular disease.
What numbers should you aim for?
Based on your risk factors and LDL-cholesterol test, your doctor will decide what your cholesterol levels should be. This is an important step, since there are different “target” levels depending on your overall cardiovascular risk profile. Once your doctor has established your personal “target” levels, he or she will work with you to design the most effective treatment plan for reaching those levels.
“Target” cholesterol levels are not written in stone. They are guidelines for doctors and patients. A number of factors must be considered when deciding what a particular cholesterol reading means and what should be done in response. Test results should always be discussed with a doctor or health care professional familiar with your medical history, state of health, and other cardiovascular risk factors.
The greater the risk for developing coronary artery disease, the lower the target for LDL-cholesterol. Simply put, if you are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, the amount of “bad” LDL-cholesterol in your blood should be reduced even more.
Risk level for cardiovascular disease LDL-cholesterol Recommendations4 Total cholesterol / HDL-cholesterol ratio target Recommendations4
(10-year risk > 20%, or known coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, cerebrovascular disease (stroke) or diabetes) TREATMENT TARGET:
less than 2.0 mmol/L TREATMENT TARGET:
less than 4.0
(10-year risk 11% – 19%) TREAT WHEN: greater than 3.5 mmol/L TREAT WHEN: greater than 5.0
(10-year risk < 10%) TREAT WHEN: greater than 5.0 mmol/L TREAT WHEN: greater than 6.0 Click here to access an online risk assessment tool that helps you to understand your level of risk by calculating your cardiovascular age, the age of your body in terms of its cardiovascular health.