The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) offers cholesterol guidelines for men and women.
High levels of LDL cholesterol and/or low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol, are major risk factors for heart attack and stroke, two of the most common causes of death in the US.
The good news is that most people can control major heart disease risk factors, including cholesterol levels, smoking, excessive weight, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
Screening for lipid disorders like high cholesterol depends on your age and whether you have any risk factors for heart disease.
The guidelines propose different recommendations depending on a person’s degree of risk of heart attack within the next ten years. This risk is determined by the presence of several risk factors, including history of heart attack or stroke, unstable or stable angina (chest pain), history of coronary artery procedures, evidence of clogged arteries, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, family history of heart disease, and age.
There are 4 major risk levels:
|Risk Category||Drug Therapy Based on LDL levels|
|Moderately high risk|
The guidelines also state that drug treatment for high-risk patients must be aggressive enough to achieve at least a 30%-40% reduction in LDL levels. In addition to drug therapy, NCEP stresses the importance of initiating therapeutic lifestyle changes in high-risk persons—regardless of cholesterol level—since lifestyle changes can reduce cardiovascular risk in several ways besides lowering cholesterol.
Diet and exercise remain the first-line treatment option for high cholesterol in those at low to moderate risk for heart disease. Most certainly, they are measures of prevention that everyone should heed. Lifestyle changes include:
If you are concerned about your cholesterol levels and your risk for heart disease, talk to your doctor. There are steps that you can take to reduce the risk.
Statins are often prescribed for high cholesterol. They are designed to be used in combination with lifestyle changes. Statins works by blocking an enzyme (HMG-CoA reductase) that helps the body make cholesterol. The benefit from these medications may also come from their anti-inflammation properties.
Statin drugs have proven to be effective in reducing cholesterol levels. These medications may also reduce the incidence of heart attack, stroke, and death.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Cardiovascular disease prevention overview. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116873/Cardiovascular-disease-prevention-overview. Updated June 29, 2017. Accessed July 31, 2017.
Montalescot G, Sechtem U, Achebach S, et al. 2013 European Society of Cardiology guidelines on the management of stable coronary artery disease. Eur Heart J. 2013;34(38):2949-3003.
Statins. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116844/Statins. Updated July 28, 2017. Accessed July 31, 2017.
Stone NJ, Robinson JG, Lichtenstein AH, et al. 2013 ACC/AHA guideline on the treatment of blood cholesterol to reduce atherosclerotic cardiovascular risk in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2014;129(25 Suppl 2):S1-S45.
Third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) expert panel on detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood cholesterol in adults. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/guidelines/atp3xsum.pdf. Accessed July 31, 2017.
What your cholesterol levels mean. American Heart Association. Available at:
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Updated July 5, 2017. Accessed July 31, 2017.
Last reviewed July 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 8/12/2015