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Five Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Cholesterol

Doctor consulting with patient

You may wonder why you should think about cholesterol. After all, high cholesterol doesn’t have any symptoms. But having high cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Learn why it’s important to know your cholesterol numbers and what questions to ask your doctor about cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs to make hormones and digest fats normally.1 Your body makes all of the cholesterol it needs, so you do not need to obtain cholesterol through foods.

What are my numbers and what do they mean?

A blood test can tell you whether you have high blood cholesterol. The test, sometimes called a “lipid profile,” measures four things:2

  • Your total cholesterol. A total cholesterol of 240 mg/dL or above is considered high.
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein). HDL is sometimes called “good” cholesterol because it helps get rid of extra cholesterol. It’s best to have 60 mg/dL or more.
  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein). LDL is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol because it can cause cholesterol to build up in the arteries. It’s best to have 100 mg/dL or less.
  • Triglycerides.3 Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. Normal levels are generally less than 150 mg/dL.

What’s a healthy cholesterol measurement for me?

A healthy cholesterol measurement depends on what you eat and drink, your physical activity levels, your age, your family history, and other factors. Your cholesterol numbers are important, but your doctor will also look at your overall health to decide whether you need treatment to lower your cholesterol.

How often do I need to get my cholesterol checked?

Your doctor should test your cholesterol levels at least once every 4 to 6 years. Some people may need to get their cholesterol checked more often. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you. In the United States, more than 1 in 10 adults has high cholesterol.4

What puts me at risk for high cholesterol?

Certain behaviors can increase the risk for unhealthy cholesterol levels, especially among certain groups. The people most at risk are those who:

  • Have a family history of high cholesterol. If high cholesterol runs in your family, you may need to get your cholesterol checked more often. Learn more about family history and cholesterol.
  • Have diabetes. Diabetes can lower good cholesterol levels and raise bad cholesterol levels, increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke. Nearly 1 in 10 Americans—more than 30 million people—have diabetes.5
  • Are older—especially for women. After menopause, women’s cholesterol levels often go up because of the drop in estrogen levels. As men and women age, they are also more likely to gain weight, which can raise cholesterol levels.6
  • Are overweight or have obesity. Having more body fat is linked to unhealthy cholesterol levels.
  • Don’t get enough physical activity. Not getting enough exercise may cause weight gain, which can lead to high cholesterol.
Illustration of cholesterol and arteries

Limiting intake of saturated fat from food may help to lower blood cholesterol. High blood cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries.

What steps can I take to control or lower my cholesterol?

  • Get active. Staying physically active helps keep your blood moving and your arteries healthy. Exercise also helps control your weight. Just a small weight reduction can lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. Adults should get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week.
  • Choose heathier fats. Saturated fats, found in foods such as butter, cheese, and red meat, may raise cholesterol and should be eaten in moderation. Instead, eat foods with poly- or monounsaturated fats, such as nuts, olive oil, and avocados.
  • Take your medicine. If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medicine in addition to lifestyle changes to control your LDL cholesterol level. Learn more about treatment options for high cholesterol.
  • Stop smoking. For more information about tobacco use and quitting, see CDC’s Smoking & Tobacco Use website.

More Information


  1. CDC. (2015). About high cholesterol.
  2. Cholesterol: What you need to know. NIH Medline Plus. 2012;7(2):6–7.
  3. MedLine Plus. (2016). Triglyceride level. National Library of Medicine.
  4. Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Kit BK. Total and High-density Lipoprotein Cholesterol in Adults: United States, 2011–2014. NCHS Data Brief, No. 226, Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2015.
  5. CDC. (2017) National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017. [1.35 MB]
  6. American Heart Association (2015). Menopause and Heart Disease.