You may have heard that heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, causing about one out of every four deaths. But what exactly is “heart disease”? While it can refer to several different types of heart ailments, the most common type is coronary artery disease (CHD), which can lead to a heart attack.
And high cholesterol is what leads to CHD.
Cholesterol – the good and the bad
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your blood. Your liver creates all the cholesterol you need, but what you eat also contributes to your cholesterol level. Foods such as meat, poultry, dairy products and oils such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil – are high in saturated and trans-fat which causes your liver to make even more cholesterol. When this happens, it builds up in the walls of your arteries. Over time, your arteries become narrower and blood flow to the heart slows down or becomes blocked. The result can be a heart attack.
But it’s not only food that can cause high cholesterol. Other factors come into play as well, like:
- Age (cholesterol levels rise naturally as we get older)
- Being overweight
- Genetics (high cholesterol can run in the family)
- Gender (women are at a higher risk after menopause)
Because so many factors can impact your cholesterol level, it’s important to keep tabs on what that level is.
Testing for cholesterol levels
Your blood indicates your cholesterol levels, which can be determined through a blood test called a fasting lipoprotein protein. This test provides four measurements:
- Total cholesterol – goal is to be less than 200 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood (mg/dL)
- Triglycerides – (goal is to have less than 250 mg/dL)
- Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL, which is the “bad” cholesterol) – goal is have less than 100 mg/dL
- High Density Lipoprotein (HDL, which is “good” cholesterol) – goal is have greater than 60 mg/dL
The higher your LDL, the greater chance you have at developing heart disease. Conversely, the higher your HDL, the lower chance you have. These numbers are important because typically, people with high cholesterol don’t show any symptoms; according to the CDC, 71 million American adults have high LDL cholesterol but fewer than half get treatment because they feel fine. This is why the American Heart Association recommends adults 20 years and older get their cholesterol checked every four to six years.
Treatment for high cholesterol
If you are found to have high cholesterol, the goal of treatment is to lower your LDL levels, which can be done in a few ways depending on your situation. You and your healthcare provider would discuss which is best for you, be it embracing a low-cholesterol diet, exercising more, quitting smoking and/or starting medication.
High cholesterol levels can be reversed. If you think you are at risk for high cholesterol and would like to discuss your concerns with one of our providers or if you haven’t had your cholesterol levels checked in a while, contact us today.