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What Age Should I Begin Worrying About High Cholesterol?

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Updated October 05, 2008

Question: What Age Should I Begin Worrying About High Cholesterol?
Answer: Technically, it is never too early to begin worrying about high cholesterol. Catching high cholesterol levels early can help to prevent the formation of plaque on your blood vessels, which can lead to a condition known as coronary heart disease. In fact, studies have shown that fatty streaks, or the precursor of plaque formation, can appear as young as age 2. The National Cholesterol Education Program, the organization that designs the guidelines for treating cholesterol, suggests that your cholesterol should be tested beginning at age 20 and then every five years after this if your cholesterol levels appear normal.

If you already have high cholesterol levels or are on cholesterol-lowering therapy, your healthcare provider may want to check your cholesterol more frequently than every five years.

Additionally, if high cholesterol tends to run in your family or if a parent or sibling has been diagnosed with an inherited condition that causes very high cholesterol levels, such as familial hypercholesterolemia, your healthcare provider may want to check your cholesterol levels at an earlier age. Individuals that have inherited conditions such as this are usually at risk for dangerously high cholesterol levels and early heart disease. As obesity levels continue to rise in children and adolescents, some healthcare providers are testing children to ensure that their cholesterol levels are not dangerously high.

So if you are older than the age of 20 and have not gotten your cholesterol checked, now is the time to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. The sooner you get your cholesterol checked, the sooner you will know your risk of developing heart disease in the future.

Sources:

DiPiro JT, Talbert RL, Yee GC et al. Pharmacotherapy: A Pathophysiological Approach, 6rd ed 2005.

Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (PDF), July 2004, The National Institutes of Heath: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

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