Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: Do I need to take a cholesterol-lowering drug?

Q. I'm 53 and on the fence about taking a medication to lower my cholesterol. My father had three heart bypass surgeries during his lifetime. My cholesterol is high (256), but my good cholesterol is also high (62). My LDL cholesterol is 161, and my triglycerides are normal. Should I take a medication?

A. I can understand why you're uncertain about the need to treat your cholesterol. On one hand, your total cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, are elevated, and you have a significant family history of coronary artery disease. On the other hand, your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) — the "good" cholesterol — is very good.

Ideal levels for a healthy woman are: total cholesterol less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL); HDL greater than 50 mg/dL; LDL under 100 mg/dL; and triglycerides less than 150 mg/dL. We should try to meet these target numbers through diet and exercise first. Your clinician's recommendation about cholesterol-lowering medications will depend on your LDL cholesterol level and other factors that influence your risk for having a heart attack within the next 10 years.

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