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About 38% of adults have high cholesterol (total blood cholesterol ≥ 200 mg/dL).1 Too much cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the United States. High cholesterol has no signs or symptoms, so the only way to know if you have it is to get your cholesterol checked. Talk to your health care team about how you can manage your cholesterol levels and lower your risk.
After decades of decline, progress has slowed in preventing stroke deaths. Almost 800,000 people have a stroke each year; more than 140,000 die, and many survivors face disability. This is disturbing because about 80% of strokes are preventable. Controlling your blood pressure, managing cholesterol and diabetes, and quitting smoking are important steps to reducing your risk
Getting your cholesterol levels checked is an important part of staying healthy. High cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the United States.
Knowing your cholesterol status can help you stay in control of your health. Learn about cholesterol screening and why it is important.
Managing cholesterol heart and you is very important
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your body needs to make hormones and digest fats. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, but you can also get cholesterol from eating certain foods, such as egg yolks and fatty meats. Having high blood cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries, putting you at risk for heart disease and stroke. High blood cholesterol doesn’t have symptoms, which is why getting your cholesterol levels checked is so important.
What are risk factors for high blood cholesterol?
Lifestyle, some health conditions, and family history can raise your risk for high cholesterol. Your doctor may suggest you have your cholesterol checked more often if you have risk factors, such as the following:
A family history of heart disease or high blood cholesterol. You are more at risk of having high cholesterol if other people in your family have it. This may be due to genetics, but it may also be that families share the same unhealthy lifestyle habits. Some people also have a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, which can cause high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol from a young age.
Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes raises “bad” cholesterol and lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol, raising the risk for heart disease and stroke.
Older age. As you age, your body can’t clear cholesterol as well as it used to.
Being male. Men tend to have higher LDL and lower HDL cholesterol levels than women do. But after menopause (around age 55), LDL cholesterol levels in women increase.4,5
Having overweight or obesity. Excess weight, unhealthy eating habits, and lack of physical activity can lead to high cholesterol.
Previously having had high cholesterol. If you have a history of high cholesterol, your doctor may want you to keep a closer watch on your cholesterol.
Talk to your doctor about your numbers. Your risk of disease depends on other factors, too, in combination with high cholesterol. To keep your cholesterol managed, you should do the following:
Choose healthy foods. Limit foods that are high in saturated or trans fats, sugar, and sodium (salt). Choose foods high in fiber, such as fresh fruits and veggies, and in unsaturated fats, such as avocados and nuts. Learn more about healthy eating external icon.
Stay physically active. You should get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as biking or brisk walking, every week.6 Learn more about physical activity external icon.
Don’t smoke. Smoking damages the blood vessels and greatly increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, learn how to quit.
Take medicine if necessary. A healthy diet and physical activity can help many people reach healthy cholesterol levels, but some people may need medicines to lower their cholesterol. Always take your medicine as prescribed.
Getting Your Cholesterol Checked
High cholesterol usually has no signs or symptoms.
The only way to know whether you have high cholesterol is to get your cholesterol checked. Your health care team can do a simple blood test, called a “lipid profile,” to measure your cholesterol levels.
The cholesterol test, or screening, requires a simple blood draw. You may need to fast (not eat or drink) for 8 to 12 hours before your cholesterol test. Be sure to ask your doctor how to prepare for the test.
The cholesterol test checks your levels of:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. Having high levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries and result in heart disease or stroke.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol because high levels can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood that your body uses for energy. The combination of high levels of triglycerides with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol levels can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Total cholesterol, the total amount of cholesterol in your blood based on your HDL, LDL, and triglycerides numbers.
Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
Desirable Cholesterol Levels1,2
Total cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL
LDL (“bad”) cholesterol Less than 100 mg/dL
HDL (“good”) cholesterol Greater than or equal to 60 mg/dL
Triglycerides Less than 150 mg/dL
Your cholesterol numbers are important, but they are just part of your overall health. Your doctor will look at your cholesterol numbers, along with your family history, age, gender, and other parts of your lifestyle or health, such as smoking, that could raise your risk for high cholesterol.
This complete picture helps your doctor determine whether you should take steps, such as lifestyle changes or cholesterol-lowering medicine, to lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Most healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years.
Some people, such as people who have heart disease or diabetes or who have a family history of high cholesterol, need to get their cholesterol checked more often.3
Children and adolescents should have their cholesterol checked at least once between ages 9 and 11 and again between ages 17 and 21.1
Talk to your health care team about your health history and how often you need to have your cholesterol checked.
A few changes in your diet can reduce cholesterol and improve your heart health:
Reduce saturated fats. Saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and full-fat dairy products, raise your total cholesterol….
Eliminate trans fats….
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids….
Increase soluble fibre.
Add whey protein.
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