Our bodies need cholesterol to build cells and other substances. But when blood cholesterol levels get too high, that can make it hard for blood to flow and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
How high is yours?
If you don’t know, you’re not alone. High cholesterol doesn’t usually come with symptoms, and many people — especially young adults — have never had theirs checked during adulthood.
So when, and how, should you get screened?
The National Institutes of Health recommends all adults 20 and older have their cholesterol checked every five years. In reality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that less than half of young adults get their cholesterol levels checked. A 2018 study of adults under 39 found that while over 21 percent had borderline high cholesterol levels, fewer than 25 percent were aware of the risk factors.
Screening levels are higher in older adults. But fewer Hispanic adults receive screenings than their counterparts of other races. According to an American Heart Association report, just over 59.3 percent of Hispanic adults had their cholesterol checked within the past five years. In contrast, the number was nearly 72 percent in both White and Black adults, and nearly 71 percent for Asian Americans.
Usually, physicians order a lipid panel, which tests for total cholesterol, and the amount of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and triglycerides in the blood.
Although these tests may be performed after fasting, there is a growing body of evidence that going without food may not be necessary to accurately screen cholesterol, and some international guidelines recommend against the practice.
Nearly 1 in 3 American adults has high cholesterol, and the only way to find out if you’re among them is to get checked. The AHA has resources about cholesterol, including a testing guide and a risk calculator, on its website.