Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance found in the blood and in all the cells of the body. It is one of the main ingredients in atherosclerotic plaque that clogs the arteries and leads to heart attacks and strokes.

Total blood cholesterol and HDL cholesterol should be checked by a health-care professional about every five years, starting at age 20. Patients who have other risk factors will need to have it checked more frequently. Doctors will advise dietary changes, exercise and weight control to help patients lower their cholesterol level. Some may also need cholesterol-lowering medication to help them reach their goal.