How to Monitor Your Cholesterol Levels

Three Parts:Testing Your Cholesterol LevelInterpreting Your Cholesterol Levels and Setting GoalsTreating High Cholesterol

In order to monitor your cholesterol, you need to know what levels are healthy and what levels are not. You also need to know when to go for screening blood tests to check on your cholesterol levels. If you do get diagnosed with high cholesterol, the frequency with which you go for blood tests and monitor your cholesterol levels will need to increase.

Part 1
Testing Your Cholesterol Level

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    Go for screening blood tests at the recommended frequency.[1] It is recommended that children get their cholesterol first screened between the ages of 9-11, and then again between the ages of 17-21. Assuming the initial childhood cholesterol screens are normal, people are advised to return for screening blood tests to check their cholesterol levels every 5 years thereafter.
    • For instance, if you go for a blood test at 36, your next test for cholesterol should be at 41, and so on.[2]
    • However, if you have a family history of high cholesterol, or other personal risk factors that may predispose you to elevated cholesterol, your doctor may ask you to return for screening at more frequent intervals.
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    Return for repeat testing of your cholesterol if and when any problems are identified. In addition to routine screening for elevated cholesterol every 5 years, you will need to come back for more frequent monitoring if any problems are identified. For example, if your LDL (bad) cholesterol is on the high side, your total cholesterol is elevated, or your HDL (good) cholesterol is too low, your doctor will likely recommend some form of treatment or lifestyle modification and then repeat blood tests to see if your cholesterol levels improve.
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    Use your blood test results as a means to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment for high cholesterol.[3] One of the key reasons that a doctor will order blood tests for cholesterol is to evaluate how the treatment of your high cholesterol is going. If you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, your doctor will likely begin you on a 3 month trial of "lifestyle changes" (unless your levels are very high, in which case medication will likely also be needed). Lifestyle changes typically include increased aerobic exercise, a diet higher in fruits and vegetables and lower in fats and refined carbohydrates, and steps to achieve weight loss as all of these are correlated to an improved cholesterol profile.
    • After a 3 month trial of lifestyle methods, your doctor can re-measure your cholesterol and evaluate the degree of improvement.
    • If your cholesterol has improved substantially and if you are back in the normal range, your doctor may advise that you continue with lifestyle modifications and you may not need medical treatment.
    • If, on the other hand, your cholesterol levels are still elevated, this would be an indication to begin medical treatment.
    • Repeat blood tests can then be taken every few months as you begin the medication to monitor its effectiveness and to screen for side effects, as well as to determine the dose that you need in order to get your cholesterol levels back in a healthier range.

Part 2
Interpreting Your Cholesterol Levels and Setting Goals

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    Keep your good cholesterol above the target range.[4] In order to effectively monitor your cholesterol levels, it is key to know what results you are aiming for on your blood tests. Good cholesterol (called "HDL cholesterol") is, perhaps ironically, a type of cholesterol where the higher your numbers are, the better.
    • Below 40mg/dL in men and below 50mg/dL in women is considered "poor."
    • Between 50-59mg/dL is considered "better."
    • Above 60mg/dL is considered the "best" range for your HDL cholesterol.
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    Monitor your bad cholesterol to ensure that it stays as low as possible.[5] Opposite to the good (HDL) cholesterol, you will want to keep your bad (LDL) cholesterol as low as possible. The target range that you should be aiming for depends on your overall health, and any other cardiovascular risk factors that you may have.
    • Below 70-129mg/dL is considered the best range for your LDL cholesterol (the specific "target value" for you, given that this is a broad range, depends on your overall health and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke).
    • Between 130-159mg/dL is considered "borderline high."
    • Between 160-189mg/dL is considered "high."
    • Above 190mg/dL is considered "very high."
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    Take note of your total cholesterol and of your ratio of total cholesterol to good cholesterol.[6] In addition to measuring your good (HDL) cholesterol and your bad (LDL) cholesterol, your blood test results will also inform you of your total cholesterol (TC). It will also provide you with your ratio of total cholesterol (TC) to good cholesterol (HDL). It is important to know your target ranges for each of these quantities.
    • Below 200mg/dL is considered "desirable" for your total cholesterol (TC). Between 200-239mg/dL is considered "borderline high," and above 240mg/dL is considered "high."
    • In terms of your ratio of total cholesterol (TC) to good cholesterol (HDL), a ratio above 6 is considered high risk.[7] The lower the value for your ratio of TC:HDL, the better this is for your health.

Part 3
Treating High Cholesterol

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    Increase your aerobic exercise.[8] Aerobic exercise is anything that elevates your heart rate for a continuous period of time, such as swimming, biking, jogging, or brisk walking. Try incorporating aerobic exercise at least 3 days per week for 30 minutes or more per session to improve your cholesterol. Note that you should always consult your doctor for a health check prior to commencing a new exercise plan.
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    Improve your diet.[9]Specifically, you can increase your consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, while decreasing your consumption of fats and refined carbohydrates. It also helps to choose healthier fats (such as the fat found in avocado, nuts, and fish) and lower glycemic index carbohydrates (such as whole grain breads, oatmeal, and quinoa).
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    Lose weight.[10] Being overweight or obese is in itself a risk factor for elevated cholesterol. Losing weight has been shown to improve your cholesterol profile. Therefore, it is helpful to talk to your doctor about how many calories you should be eating daily, and how much exercise you should be doing, in order to optimize your weight and to get it closer to your ideal body weight for your specific height and build. Note that it is key to lose weight in safe ways, and not to starve yourself in the process.
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    Begin a cholesterol medication such as a statin.[11] If lifestyle measures alone are insufficient to reduce your cholesterol levels, your doctor will likely advise that you begin a statin medication such as Atorvastatin (Lipitor). This medication works to improve your cholesterol; however, there are also some side effects to be aware of.
    • The main side effects that may occur with a statin medication are liver problems and/or muscle soreness.
    • Your doctor will test your liver function at your next appointment (following the initiation of the statin) to ensure that it is not causing any problems.
    • Tell your doctor about any muscle soreness you are experiencing due to the medication.
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    Opt for additional medical treatments if needed.[12] If the statin medication is causing you adverse side effects, there are other medical treatments that you can try instead. These include bile-acid-binding resins, cholesterol absorption inhibitors, and/or injectable cholesterol medications.

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