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Screening for Heart Attack

Written by FoundHealth.

The purpose of screening is early diagnosis and treatment. Screening tests are usually administered to people without current symptoms, but who may be at high risk for certain diseases or conditions.

You may be screened to find out if you have risk factors for coronary artery disease before you begin to have any symptoms. Screening involves assessing your medical history and lifestyle habits that may increase or decrease your risk of having a heart attack.

Screening Tests

Blood pressure check—A blood pressure reading measures the amount of pressure in your arteries when the heart is pumping (the upper number) and when your heart is resting between beats (the lower number). For example, normal blood pressure is 120/80 or lower. Consistent blood pressure readings of 140/90 or higher are considered high blood pressure . A blood pressure test is quick and painless. A blood pressure cuff will be placed around your arm. Air will be pumped into the cuff to tighten it around your arm and then released while a healthcare professional listens with a stethoscope.

Cholesterol—Cholesterol levels are checked with a blood test. A blood sample will be taken from a vein in your arm. Cholesterol tests involve measuring total cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides.

The chart below lists healthy and unhealthy ranges for each type of cholesterol.

Total Cholesterol


Less than 200 mg/dL* (5.2 mmol/L)

Borderline high

200-239 mg/dL (5.2-6.1 mmol/L)


240 mg/dL (6.2 mmol/L) and above

Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL)


Less than 100 mg/dL (2.6 mmol/L)

Near or above optimal

100-129 mg/dL (2.6-3.3 mmol/L)

Borderline high

130-159 mg/dL (3.4-4.0 mmol/L)


160-189 mg/dL (4.1-4.8 mmol/L)

Very high

190 mg/dL (4.9 mmol/L) and above

High Density Lipoprotein (HDL)

Protective effect against heart disease

60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) and above

Healthy range, but higher is better

40-59 mg/dL (1.0-1.5 mmol/L)

Major risk factor for heart disease

Less than 40 mg/dL (1.0 mmol/L)



Less that 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L)

Borderline high

150-199 mg/dL (1.7-2.2 mmol/L)


200-499 mg/dL (2.3-5.6 mmol/L)

Very high

500 mg/dL (5.7 mmol/L) and above

Note: These categories apply to adults aged 20 and older. *mg/dL = milligrams per deciliter of blood (mmol/L= millimoles per liter of blood)

Screening Guidelines

The National Guidelines Clearinghouse recommends adults up to age 64 receive blood pressure and cholesterol tests at least every three to five years. Adults over age 65 should have the screenings every one to two years.



American Heart Association website. Available at: . Accessed August 14, 2008.

National Guidelines Clearinghouse website. Available at: .

National Cholesterol Education Program. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. . Accessed January 23, 2007.

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