6 things you should know about cholesterol

September 22, 2022 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

When kept in check, cholesterol is not a bad thing. In fact, your body needs it to help build cells.

However, that waxy substance carried in your blood stream could pose serious health risks if not kept at healthy levels.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 40 percent of American adults have high cholesterol. Here are six things you should know about cholesterol to help keep it within a healthy range:

  1. What you eat matters. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. Whether you stay within a healthy range is determined largely by the types of food you eat. Choosing a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fats and focused on lean proteins, fruits and vegetables can help you stay in a healthy range. Check out these recipes your heart will love.

  2. Not all cholesterol is bad. Lipoproteins carry cholesterol through your blood to your cells. There are two main groups of lipoproteins. High-density lipoprotein (or HDL) is the “good” type of cholesterol and helps your body process low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as the “bad” cholesterol. Triglycerides are the most common form of fat found in your body. A high level of triglycerides combined with a high level of LDL or low HDL increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

  3. Because there are no symptoms for high cholesterol, everyone, including children, should get their cholesterol checked. The CDC suggests that healthy adults should get their cholesterol checked every 4-6 years. Your doctor may suggest more frequent or additional testing (e.g., a lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), test to measure a form of LDL cholesterol) if you have certain risk factors or a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease. The CDC also recommends that children get their cholesterol levels checked once between the ages of 9 and 11 and again between the ages between 17 and 21.

  4. Your numbers tell a story. High LDL levels means cholesterol can build up in your arteries and form blockages. Cholesterol levels of 60 or more for HDL, under 100 for LDL and a total reading less than 200 are considered heart-healthy levels. You begin entering the “at risk” zone with HDL levels of 40-59 (for men) and 50-59 (for women), LDL levels of 100-159 and a total cholesterol reading of 200-239. A total cholesterol reading of 240 or more is considered a dangerous level and puts you at an even higher risk for heart disease or stroke. Learn how to keep tabs on your cholesterol.

  5. Certain conditions put you at higher risk. Some chronic conditions such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, kidney disease, hypothyroidism and lupus come with an increased risk for high cholesterol. Certain medications used to treat acne, cancer, HIV/AIDS, high blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms may also affect your cholesterol levels. If you are being treated for any of these diseases or taking any medications, be sure to talk to your doctor about things you can do to manage your cholesterol.

  6. Lifestyle changes help improve your cholesterol levels. Physical activity is good for heart health. Exercise helps increase your HDL (good) cholesterol. You can also improve your cholesterol levels by losing excess weight/maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress, and limiting saturated and trans fats. Also, if you smoke, quitting will decrease your risk as will drinking alcohol in moderation, if at all.

If your doctor prescribes medication to help lower your cholesterol, be sure to take it as prescribed.

When was the last time you had your cholesterol checked? Make an appointment with your physician for a check-up if you don’t have one on the books soon.

Your heart is in good hands when you choose us for cardiovascular care. Learn more about our high-quality heart care.

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