Medically reviewed by Dr. Nieca Goldberg, MD
Scheduling an appointment with your health care provider is important, but are you making the most of your time and making sure you learn more about your heart health? If you don’t know your total cholesterol or LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) numbers, you’re not alone. But it’s important for women to know these numbers because high cholesterol increases your risk for cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Black and white women in the United States, so it’s important to talk with your health care provider. Here’s a helpful guide of questions to ask at your next appointment.
Questions to Ask About High Cholesterol
What’s a healthy cholesterol measurement for me? And do I need to know my LDL number specifically?
A healthy cholesterol measurement depends on what you eat and drink, your physical activity level, your age, your family history and other factors. Your health care provider can review what should be normal for you. Your cholesterol numbers are important, but it’s also important to know your LDL numbers since this is the “bad” cholesterol that increases your risk for heart disease. It’s also important to know these numbers as you age since a woman’s LDL tends to rise as her estrogen declines leading up to menopause.
How often should I get a cholesterol test?
Typically, children and young adults with no risk factors for heart disease are tested once between the ages of 9 and 11 and again between the ages of 17 and 19. Retesting for adults with no risk factors for heart disease is usually done every five years. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease or other risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes or high blood pressure, you may get tested more often.
Does my family’s health history put me at risk?
Make sure you know and share all the details of your family health history. Even if you make healthy lifestyle choices, you are at greater risk for high cholesterol with a family history.
Does my weight and lifestyle choices affect my cholesterol level?
Your health care provider should be willing to have an open discussion about a healthy weight for you since everyone is different. Being overweight or obese does increase your risk for heart disease. If you smoke, drink and are physically inactive, don’t be afraid to share this so your health care provider can correctly assess your risk.
How do my current cholesterol levels affect my risk for experiencing a heart attack or stroke?
The standard lipid profile gives four numbers: the total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good” cholesterol), and triglycerides. Elevated LDL cholesterol and triglycerides indicate an increased risk for heart and stroke. Low HDL levels of less than 50 also increase cardiovascular risk. Your risk for cardiovascular disease is based on cholesterol and the presence of other risk factors such as diabetes, cigarette smoking, and high blood pressure. That why health care providers also use the ASCVD (atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease) risk calculator to assess risk over 10 years.
What is the ASCVD (atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease) risk calculator and do I need to use this tool?
It is beneficial to know about and use this risk calculator, which estimates your 10-year risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Just know that the risk calculator does not include family history. It’s an important tool and it is available to everyone online. In order to use the calculator, you need to know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. The calculator is a good start in assessing risk, but you should be discussing the results and your family history with your provider.
What medications are used to treat high cholesterol?
Statins are the most common treatment option, but according to a recent HealthyWomen survey, 77 percent of women said statins did not make them feel like themselves. Not all women tolerate statins well. The most commonly reported statin-associated symptoms were muscle aches/cramps, fatigue, and weakness. For women who don’t tolerate statins well, they may need other non-statin treatment options. It’s important to explore all options with your health care provider.
What do I need to do between now and my next visit?
Make sure you understand your marching orders. Write down your numbers and get familiar with them. Also, what lifestyle changes do you need to make? What medications will you be taking and what are they supposed to do? If you leave the appointment and think of another question, call and resolve it as soon as possible.
This resource was created with the support of Esperion Therapeutics, Inc.