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Young Women in Dark About Cholesterol

Barely One-Fifth of Women Younger Than 45 Know Their Cholesterol Numbers

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

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 societyfocused 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 WebMDvia email.

Young says the society focused on those age groupsto emphasize toyounger women that screening should start at age 20, not midlife, and thatolder women need to knowthat 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.

SOURCES: News release, Society for Women's Health Research. Karen Young, media relations coordinator, Society for Women's Health Research. WebMD Medical Reference: "Facts About Cholesterol."

© 2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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