When Should I Treat High Cholesterol?

September is National Cholesterol Education Month. Luke Laffin, MD, breaks down cholesterol by the numbers – and tells us when treatment is necessary.

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September is National Cholesterol Education Month.

Millions of people have high cholesterol, putting them at increased risk for heart disease.

The good news is high cholesterol is treatable at any age.

According to Cleveland Clinic’s Luke Laffin, MD, managing cholesterol starts young.

“Typically we recommend as soon as someone turns 18, or in their early 20’s, to at least have a one-time cholesterol panel and it almost serves as a screening test, of sorts, then we can check every three to five years after the fact.”

Cholesterol screening is a simple blood test.

When you get your results, you’ll see a few different numbers.

-Total cholesterol should be less than 170.
-LDL, or ‘bad’, cholesterol should be less than 110.
-HDL, or ‘good’, cholesterol should be 35 or higher.
-Triglycerides should be less than 150.

Dr. Laffin said high cholesterol is treated with a combination of exercise, a heart healthy diet, and cholesterol lowering medications.

He generally recommends starting medications when ‘bad’ cholesterol is greater than 180.

One recent study suggests treating cholesterol earlier in life may reduce future heart attacks and strokes.

But Dr. Laffin said everyone is different, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about what’s best for you.

“If you have higher risk features such as a strong family history, you smoke, you’re obese or have diabetes, hypertension – your doctor may want to check a little bit more regularly and also be more aggressive in terms of treating risk factors and treating cholesterol,” he said.

Dr. Laffin adds that people of all ages should have open conversations with their health care providers about heart disease risk factors because cholesterol lowering medications can play a role, in certain circumstances, in protecting young people from heart attack and stroke.

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