The amount of cholesterol and other fats known as triglycerides in a person's bloodstream is a strong indication of the likelihood they will have a heart attack. High levels of the so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol (low density lipoprotein, or LDL) and triglycerides are a cause for concern as as they can lead to atherosclerosis and coronary heart (artery) disease, a major risk factor for heart attack.
For this reason, it is sensible for all adults to have their cholesterol and triglyceride levels measured at least once. If the levels are low, and you don't change your diet and exercise pattern, it may not be necessary to have them checked again for some time. But if the levels are abnormally high, your doctor may need to advise you about cholesterol management.
The Heart Foundation recommends that all adults aged 45 and older should have regular blood tests to check their cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Those who are younger than 45 and have other risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes or a family history of high cholesterol, should also have their blood lipid levels checked regularly — at least once a year.
Fat levels in the blood can be reduced in several ways. Losing weight if you are overweight or obese, improving your diet, increasing the amount you exercise, quitting smoking if you smoke, and reducing alcohol consumption will often help.
Some people will have high cholesterol levels despite a good diet and plenty of exercise. For them, it may be necessary to take tablets to lower cholesterol or triglyceride levels and reduce the risk of heart attack.
Some children have been found to have raised levels of cholesterol. Although it is not practical to check all children, it is worth testing those who have diabetes, children whose family members have abnormally high levels and those who have had a parent or brother or sister who has had coronary heart disease before the age of 60.
Last Reviewed: 26 October 2011