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What is high cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat in your blood that your body needs. When there is too much of it in your blood it is called high cholesterol. Cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries, which carry blood from your heart. This buildup can lead to heart disease and stroke. Heart disease and stroke are some of the top causes of death in the United States.
Who is at risk for high cholesterol?
Anyone, including children, can have high cholesterol. Personal factors like your age, sex, and family history can increase your risk for high cholesterol. Other factors like unhealthy diet, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise also increase your risk for high cholesterol.
What are the signs of high cholesterol?
High cholesterol does not have visible symptoms. Many people do not know that their cholesterol level is high. The only way to know if your cholesterol is high is to do a simple blood test. You can get your cholesterol tested by your primary care provider at a routine visit. Most adults should test their cholesterol every five years.
What is the difference between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol?
When you get a cholesterol test your health care provider will often give you four numbers:
Total cholesterol: the total amount of cholesterol in your blood.
LDL: the kind of cholesterol that makes up the majority of the body’s cholesterol. LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol because having high levels can lead to buildup in your arteries and result in heart disease and stroke.
HDL: the kind of cholesterol that absorbs cholesterol in the blood and carries it back to the liver, which flushes it from the body. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol because having high levels can reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke.
Triglycerides: a type of fat found in your blood that your body uses for energy. When you eat, your body turns any calories it does not need to use right away into triglycerides. The triglycerides are stored and hormones release triglycerides later for energy between meals.
If your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or more, or if your HDL (good cholesterol) is less than 40 mg/dL, you may need to get additional tests. Ask your health care provider about what may be right for you.
How is high cholesterol treated?
If you have high cholesterol lowering it is important regardless of age or if you already have heart disease. You will need to:
- • eat a healthy diet
- • exercise regularly
- • quit smoking
Even if you eat healthy, exercise and quit smoking, you may need to take medication to get your cholesterol levels under control.
How can you prevent high cholesterol?
Here are some things you can do to prevent high cholesterol:
- • Eat a healthy diet. A diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol can increase cholesterol levels in your blood.
- • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can increase your cholesterol level. Losing weight can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol and total cholesterol level, and raise your HDL (good) cholesterol level.
- • Exercise regularly. Getting regular exercise can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. You should try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes five days a week.
- • Don’t smoke. Smoking can increase cholesterol buildup on the walls of your arteries.
Cholesterol. (2015). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.