How often do you need your cholesterol checked, anyway?
One of the most important things you can do for your heart health is to get regular tests with your doctor. For example, knowing your blood pressure may help you and your doctor catch concerning trends early, so you can intervene and hopefully prevent heart disease. Of course, you can’t go into the doctor’s office every day for a cholesterol check. How often do you need these tests?
Perhaps the three most important tests for heart health are the ABCs:
- A1C: A test that measures your average blood sugar over several months
- Blood pressure: A measure of the force on the walls of arteries
- Cholesterol: A measure of the amount of cholesterol in the blood
“These three together can help predict the likelihood that you will have a heart attack or a stroke,” says David Anstey, MD, cardiologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “[It] can also give us an opportunity to make interventions [and] reduce the risk so that you can live a long and healthy life.”
Tests to Monitor Heart Health: The ABCs
1. Your A1C levels
High blood sugar levels can increase your risk of damage to the heart and blood vessels. They can damage the walls of the arteries, causing them to narrow. Healthy and stable blood sugar levels may help lower your risk of heart disease.
Starting at age 45, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an A1C test every three years. If you have other risk factors or your A1C levels are higher than normal, your doctor may recommend an A1C test every year or two.
A1C results use the following chart:
- Normal: Below 5.7 percent
- Prediabetes: 5.7 to 6.4 percent
- Diabetes: 6.5 percent or above
2. Your blood pressure
Taking your blood pressure is quick, painless, and easy, and you’ll likely get a blood pressure check at the start of every doctor visit.
In general, experts recommend getting your blood pressure checked every one or two years starting at age 18. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or kidney problems, you should get it checked more often (at least once a year).
Psst … You can also buy affordable blood pressure machines for your home. That way, you can check your blood pressure regularly—even every day!
Ideally, blood pressure should be less than 120 (systolic) over less than 80 (diastolic). Learn more about what blood pressure numbers mean here.
3. Your cholesterol
A cholesterol test is called a fasting lipid protein panel. It measures the amount of cholesterol in your blood. This is important because high cholesterol can lead to plaque deposits on the artery walls. Plaque can harden, leading to atherosclerosis (the hardening and narrowing of the arteries). This may increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
If you have normal cholesterol levels, experts generally recommend getting a cholesterol test every five years. If you have high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, or kidney problems, your doctor will likely recommend getting tested more often.
Cholesterol tests for heart health use the following guidelines:
- Total cholesterol should be below 200
- LDL (“bad”) cholesterol should be below 100
- HDL (“good”) cholesterol should be above 60
- Triglycerides should be below 150
Worried about your heart health? Start a conversation with your doctor about how you can manage your risk factors. Knowing your numbers is a great first step. The next step is to learn ways to manage your risk, such as with medicines and heart-healthy lifestyle changes.
David Anstey, MD, is a cardiologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
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