African Americans and cholesterol: Should I get my cholesterol checked?

African Americans are at a higher risk for heart disease, and high cholesterol adds to the risk

Younger African Americans are more likely to have conditions like heart disease, stroke and diabetes that among white people tend not to show up until much later in life, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Among the study’s findings:

  • African Americans from ages 18 to 49 are twice as likely to die from heart disease than their white counterparts.
  • African Americans ages 35 to 64 are 50% more likely to have high blood pressure.
  • Blacks have the highest death rate for all cancers combined compared with whites.

High cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease are closely linked, so it is important to understand good and bad cholesterol and how it affects your body. The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is to have a simple blood test done.

The cholesterol test checks your levels of:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. Having high levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries and result in heart disease or stroke.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol because high levels can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood that your body uses for energy. The combination of high levels of triglycerides with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol levels can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Total cholesterol is the total amount of cholesterol in your blood based on your HDL, LDL, and triglycerides numbers.

No race or ethnicity is immune from health issues including high cholesterol, but research suggests some groups have higher risk factors for some conditions or appear to be more likely to develop some conditions than others.

“Social and economic conditions, such as poverty, contribute to the gap in health differences between African Americans and whites,” the CDC concluded in the 2017 study that used data from 1999 to 2015.

Schedule a cholesterol check

A cholesterol check involves a simple blood test that can be done at your primary care provider’s office. 

Risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which can contribute to heart failure, may go unnoticed and untreated among younger African Americans, according to the CDC. Factors such as high poverty can limit access to health care, early diagnosis and treatments that can contribute to longer, healthier lives.

When should I get my cholesterol checked?

The CDC reports that about 1 in 5 adolescents have unhealthy cholesterol levels, and nearly 93 million U.S. adults ages 20 or older have high cholesterol. But since high cholesterol doesn’t have symptoms, many people don’t know their levels are high.

Steven Patton, D.O. and Community Medical Director recommends getting cholesterol checked early, “Children and adolescents should have their cholesterol checked, especially if there is a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, or if the child or teen has diabetes or is overweight.”

The 2018 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines recommend that cholesterol management be based on a person’s lifetime cardiovascular risk. For adults, testing is recommended:

  • Every five years for people ages 20 or older who are at low risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • More frequently than every five years for people with cardiovascular disease risk factors.

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