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True or false: You should only get your cholesterol checked if you’re over 50.

If you answered “false,” you would be right. So, how old should you be? The answer can be found in the new cholesterol guidelines published in Circulation, the American Heart Association’s journal.

A panel of 24 science and health experts from the American Heart Association and 11 other health organizations based the new guidelines on science and research. They found nearly one in three American adults suffer from high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol — the fatty buildup that leads to narrowed arteries.

“The evidence is overwhelming,” said Doctor Scott M. Grundy, chairman of the guideline writing committee and professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “Essentially no one says cholesterol is not important. The whole world now understands – it’s important.”

Experts now recommend a “lifespan approach” towards cholesterol. Begin screenings at a young age, especially if there’s a family history. Continue regular screenings throughout your lifetime. Make changes to your diet and exercise per your healthcare provider’s recommendations. And, take medicine as needed.

Here’s a summary of the latest guidelines:

Start early. Don’t wait until you or your children are older. Test kids as young as the age of 2 if there’s a family history. Approach stroke and heart disease as a health issue to monitor throughout your life and not just after you reach a certain age.

“It’s important that, even at a young age, people are following a heart-healthy lifestyle and understanding and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels,” said Doctor Sarah D. de Ferranti, chief of outpatient cardiology and director of preventive cardiology at Harvard Medical School’s Boston Children’s Hospital. “As a pediatrician, this comes naturally since we are always aiming to deliver our patients into adulthood with the best chance possible for a long and healthy life.”

Monitor as a young adult. Get a risk assessment every four to six years if you’re over 20. You have a better chance of making it to 50 with a healthy heart if you have normal heart health in your 20s.

“We think doctors ought to pay more attention to young adults,” said Grundy. “If their cholesterol is high, they should try their best through the right kind of diet, keeping their weight down. … They might not need a statin, but they certainly need attention.”  A statin is a group of prescription drugs that lower blood cholesterol.

Monitor regularly as you age. You’re more likely to need medicine if you’re between 40 and 75 years old. Your risk also increases if you have:

  • A family history of stroke or heart disease
  • High triglycerides
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic inflammatory conditions such as HIV, psoriasis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • A history of pre-eclampsia or early menopause

Talk genetics with your healthcare provider. Your race and ethnic background could influence your heart health. Discuss your heritage with your primary care physician and ask about the risks.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Eating well and exercising lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol. So does maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking and managing high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Ask your healthcare provider for guidance.

True or false: You should get your cholesterol checked today.

True. Regular screenings are the only way to know if your cholesterol is normal or abnormal. A simple blood test will indicate if your total cholesterol is under 200mg/dL (normal) and if your bad LDL is less than 100mg/dL. Schedule a screening and enjoy a healthy heart for a lifetime.

If you haven’t had a complete health screening in the last year, make it a priority to schedule one in the new year.

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