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Young Women in Dark About Cholesterol

Barely One-Fifth of Women Younger Than 45 Know Their Cholesterol Numbers
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Women's Cholesterol IQ

Sept. 20, 2007 -- Few women younger than 45 are savvy about cholesterol, new research shows.

That lack of knowledge could be dangerous, since cholesterol buildup inside artery walls makes heart disease and stroke more likely.

Heart disease is the leading killer of U.S. women. Stroke ranks third (cancer holds second place).

GfK Custom Research North America conducted the survey this summer for the nonprofit Society for Women's Health Research, which encourages women to get their cholesterol checked once every five years starting at age 20 (or more frequently, if needed).

"You can't wait until midlife or later to monitor, and manage when needed, your cholesterol level, which is a major risk factor for heart disease in both women and men," says Phyllis Greenberger, president and CEO of the Society for Women's Health Research, in a news release.

Younger Women Lacking Cholesterol Knowledge

The survey included 141 women aged 18-44, 112 women aged 45-54, and 271 women aged 55 and older.

In reporting the survey's results, the society focused on the cholesterol knowledge of the youngest and oldest age group.

The older women expressed more knowledge about cholesterol, but women of all ages had room for improvement.

Nearly three-quarters of women aged 18-44 didn't know their total cholesterol level, LDL ("bad") cholesterol level, HDL ("good" cholesterol level), or triglyceride level, compared with almost half of women aged 55 and older and 35% of all adult women surveyed.

Two-thirds of the women aged 18-44 incorrectly guessed or didn't know that HDL cholesterol is the "good" cholesterol, compared to 58% of women aged 55 and older and more than 61% of all adult women surveyed.

Younger women were also more likely than older women to indicate that they were "very" or "somewhat" surprised to learn that high cholesterol has no symptoms.

"The only large gaps we saw were between the younger women and the older women," society spokeswoman Karen Young tells WebMD via email.

Young says the society focused on those age groups to emphasize to younger women that screening should start at age 20, not midlife, and that older women need to know that screening is covered by Medicare.

The survey has a 3% margin of error.

Cholesterol 101

Here are the cholesterol facts you need to know, regardless of your sex.

  • Cholesterol is a type of lipid (as is fat).
  • Cholesterol can come from animal-based foods such as meat or eggs, but not plant-based foods like vegetables or fruits. It's also made by your body.
  • LDL is "bad" cholesterol. HDL is "good" cholesterol.
  • A blood test can check your cholesterol level.
  • Exercise and a healthy diet may improve your cholesterol levels.
  • Medications can help control cholesterol, when necessary.

Here are the optimal cholesterol levels to shoot for:

  • Total cholesterol should be below 200 mg/dL, unless HDL is high.
  • LDL lower than 100 mg/dL
  • HDL 60 mg/dL or higher

Triglycerides are another type of lipid, but they're not the same as cholesterol. Ideally, triglyceride levels after fasting should be less than 150 mg/dL.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Is Your Cholesterol Level Heart Healthy?
What is your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) level?

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or
Answer:
Desirable
0-199
Borderline
200-239
High
240+

Your level is currently

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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