Cholesterol Risk Factors

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One of the key measurements doctors use to determine a person’s risk of having a heart attack in the next ten years is cholesterol. As well, high cholesterol carries no symptoms, so assessing your likelihood of high cholesterol is important. Though uncontrollable considerations like age, gender, and heredity contribute to the risk of high cholesterol, there are several cholesterol risk factors you can control – meaning you can reduce your risk of high cholesterol with lifestyle changes. If you have some of these cholesterol risk factors, you might want to discuss cholesterol testing and a plan to lower cholesterol with your doctor.

Are You A Man Over Age 45 Or A Woman Over Age 55?

Obviously, you have no control over your age, but men over age 45 and women over age 55 – or past menopause – have a higher risk of having high cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease. In middle age, it’s important to discuss with your doctor the need for cholesterol testing and monitoring. In fact, the National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults aged 20 years and over have their cholesterol checked every 5 years.”

Do You Smoke?

Smokers have a higher risk of high cholesterol. In addition to the damage smoking causes to lungs, smoking also damages the walls of blood vessels. When the walls of the blood vessels are damaged, it is more likely that plaque can build and stick to them – leading to hardening of the arteries, also known as atherosclerosis. As well, smoking lowers HDL (good) cholesterol, but this can be reversed when a person quits smoking.

Are You Overweight and/or Physically Inactive?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Being overweight can raise LDL, lower HDL, and raise total cholesterol levels.” This is important because carrying too much weight has a triple cholesterol impact: raising LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowering HDL (good) cholesterol and raising overall cholesterol all at the same time. Indeed, the Mayo Clinic reports that, “Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk of high cholesterol.” Of course, exercise and weight go hand-in-hand, but exercise actually improves cholesterol levels as well as reducing weight. Exercise actually increases HDL (good) cholesterol and lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol. So in addition to contributing to weight gain, not getting enough exercise elevates high cholesterol risk.

Do You Eat A Lot Of High Fat and/or Highly Processed Foods?

The Mayo Clinic explains, “Foods that are high in cholesterol, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, will increase your total cholesterol. Eating saturated fat, found in animal products, and trans fats, found in some commercially baked cookies and crackers, also can raise your cholesterol level.”

Is Your Blood Pressure High?

As with smoking, high blood pressure damages arteries. When arteries are damaged, it’s easier for fatty deposits to stick to them, and this can cause atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Managing high blood pressure is important in preventing both high cholesterol and heart disease.

Do You Have Diabetes?

Having high blood sugar raises LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol. When blood sugar is not well controlled, cholesterol is increased but when blood sugar is well modulated, cholesterol levels can improve.


Certain risk factors for high cholesterol – like age, gender and heredity – cannot be controlled. But there are things you can do to reduce your risk of high cholesterol.  First, it’s important to keep medical conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes under control. Further, you can lower the risk of high cholesterol with lifestyle changes that include quitting smoking, getting moderate daily exercise, and eating a healthy, low-fat diet. Finally, it’s important to follow the recommendation to have your cholesterol tested every five years starting at age 20.

Did You Know?

High cholesterol is a major factor in heart disease risk, and theThe ACC/AHA published an easy-to-use, online calculator to assess your 10-year risk of having a heart attack. To use this online calculator, just have these measurements handy: Total Cholesterol, HDL Cholesterol and Systolic Blood Pressure (the first number of your blood pressure reading).

Don’t have those important health measurements? You can check your blood pressure and cholesterol at a doctor’s office.  Don’t want to visit your doctor? You can still use this free screening tool by checking your blood pressure at a drugstore, and seek out the free cholesterol screenings sometimes offered at a drugstore or local health organization.


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