Get Your Heart-Health Questions Answered
The more you know about cholesterol and heart health, the better prepared you may be to make the right choices for your heart. Whether you've been recently diagnosed with high cholesterol or have been managing cholesterol for a while, you probably have some questions. This section contains answers to common questions about high cholesterol and heart health.
Questions About Cholesterol
Click on a question for the answer.
- Q: What is cholesterol?
A: Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the body. Having high "bad" cholesterol means you have too much LDL cholesterol in your blood. LDL cholesterol can build up in your arteries and prevent the blood from getting to your heart. HDL cholesterol is the "good" cholesterol. It carries LDL cholesterol away from your artery walls.
Here is some basic information you should know about cholesterol:
- Too much cholesterol in the blood, or high cholesterol, can be serious. People with high cholesterol are at risk of getting heart disease. This can lead to a heart attack or stroke
- Only about 25% of cholesterol comes from the foods you eat. The other 75% is made by the body. Factors such as age and family history affect how much cholesterol your body makes
- People with high cholesterol usually have no symptoms. You need a blood test to determine if you have high cholesterol. These tests can also help your doctor predict what your risk for heart disease may be
- Q: What should my cholesterol numbers be?
A: Your doctor knows best when it comes to your cholesterol goals, and he or she will be your partner in reaching your goals. National guidelines say a person's total cholesterol number should be under 200, while 220–239 is considered borderline high, and 240 or above is considered high.
National guidelines also provide direction on LDL cholesterol, part of total cholesterol and the main focus of cholesterol-lowering therapy. Having high levels of LDL cholesterol may put you at risk for heart disease. Generally, your LDL cholesterol should be below 160, if you have no other risk factors for heart disease. Managing and lowering your LDL cholesterol then helps to further reduce your risk.
If you have heart disease or diabetes, or risk factors for heart disease, your nationally recommended LDL cholesterol number may differ:
Be sure to work with your doctor to determine the LDL cholesterol goal that is right for you and your risk factors. Risk factors include age, smoking, high blood pressure, low HDL ("good") cholesterol, or family history of heart disease.
- Q: Why is high cholesterol a health risk?
A: When you have high cholesterol, a thick, waxy plaque can build up in your artery walls. As plaque builds up, the artery narrows and becomes less flexible. If a blood clot forms and clogs an artery narrowed by plaque, you could have a heart attack or stroke.
People with high cholesterol may be at increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Did you know that 80% of people who have had a heart attack have high cholesterol? Learn more about the risk factors for heart disease.
- Q: How common is high cholesterol?
A: Around 1 in 5 adults in the United States have high cholesterol. In adults, total cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or above are considered high. Levels from 200 mg/dL to 239 mg/dL are borderline high.
- Q: How is cholesterol measured?
A: Cholesterol is measured as milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). When you get your cholesterol tested, your measurements will include:
- Total cholesterol
- LDL ("bad") cholesterol
- HDL ("good") cholesterol
- Triglycerides (another type of fat in the blood)
- Q: At what age should I start having my cholesterol checked?
A: Experts recommend that all adults over the age of 20 have their cholesterol levels measured at least once every 5 years.
The American Heart Association recommends that you have your cholesterol checked more often if:
- Your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or more
- You are a man over 45 or a woman over 50
- Your HDL ("good") cholesterol is less than 40 mg/dL
- You have other risk factors for heart disease and stroke
- Q: How does smoking affect my risk of heart disease?
A: Smoking increases the risk of heart disease. If you smoke, your risk of death from a sudden heart attack is greatly increased.
The Lipitor For You program provides helpful tips about adopting healthy habits to manage your high cholesterol levels. Visit the Lipitor For You and Smart Living website at LipitorSmartLiving.com to view more information on how you can blend healthy habits into your daily life.
- Q: Is diabetes a risk factor for heart disease?
A: Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease. The risk of heart disease raises significantly if your glucose levels are not kept under control. If you have diabetes, you should work with your doctor to help control your diabetes as well as any other risk factors you may have for heart disease.
- Q: How often should I have my cholesterol checked?
A: Based on the results of a blood test and your overall risk, your doctor should develop a schedule based on your medical history.
- Q: Where can I find more information about cholesterol?
A: The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) has booklets for adults and children. To order publications on cholesterol, weight, and physical activity or request a catalog, visit their website, or write to:
National Cholesterol Education Program
NHLBI Information Center
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
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LIPITOR® (atorvastatin calcium) tablets are not for everyone, including anyone who has previously had an allergic reaction to LIPITOR. It is not for those with liver problems. And it is not for women who are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant.
If you take LIPITOR® (atorvastatin calcium) tablets, tell your doctor if you feel any new muscle pain or weakness. This could be a sign of rare but serious muscle side effects. Tell your doctor about all your medical conditions and all medications you take. This may help avoid serious drug interactions. Your doctor should do blood tests to check your liver function before starting LIPITOR and during your treatment if you have symptoms of liver problems. Tell your doctor if you have diabetes. Elevated blood sugar levels have been reported with statins, including LIPITOR.
Common side effects are diarrhea, upset stomach, muscle and joint pain, and changes in some blood tests.