5 Essential Facts You Need to Know About High Cholesterol

photo of a heart and stethoscope

How much do you know about high cholesterol? It’s an important topic and not just because it’s National Cholesterol Education Month in the United States but also because high cholesterol represents a significant health risk for millions of Americans.

With all the information that’s out there about cholesterol, it can be hard to know exactly where to begin. So here are five of the most essential things you should know about cholesterol right now:

If You Have High Cholesterol, You’re Not Alone

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high cholesterol is a relatively common condition in the United States, with 95 million adults over the age of 20 having total cholesterol levels above the recommended level. Moreover, the CDC estimates that about 43 million of those people are currently taking medicine to manage their cholesterol levels.

What this means is that high cholesterol is not something to be embarrassed about or avoid in conversation. In fact, with high cholesterol playing a key role in raising a person’s risk for heart disease (the leading cause of death in America), there’s never been a better time to talk about it more.

Even Children Can Have High Cholesterol

Unfortunately, high cholesterol is not a condition that’s confined to adults. In fact, the CDC estimates that 7 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 have total cholesterol levels above the recommended guideline.

Too Much “Bad” Cholesterol Can Put You at Risk for Stroke or Heart Disease 

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood that’s produced by your liver. It’s actually an essential part of maintaining a healthy body because it’s involved in everything from making hormones to digesting foods.

But did you know that, in most cases, your body already produces all of the cholesterol it needs? That means your lifestyle choices, health conditions, or family history can raise or lower your cholesterol, which can negatively impact your overall health. And when we talk about high cholesterol, we’re generally referring to having too much “bad” cholesterol in your blood. But what is “bad” cholesterol and how does it compare to “good” cholesterol? Read on.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is just one of the lipoproteins necessary for transporting fat molecules around your body. But too much LDL in your body can be bad for your health, which is why it’s most often considered “bad” cholesterol. And for “good” cholesterol? That’s usually considered your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) because it’s responsible for absorbing cholesterol and returning it to the liver to be removed from your body.

Too much LDL in your blood can lead to what is known as plaque, a buildup of cholesterol in your blood vessels that can ultimately make them more narrow over time. This can block your blood flow and put you at risk for having a stroke or heart attack.

Certain Conditions and Factors Can Raise Your Level of Risk

The most important thing to remember about high cholesterol is that there are a variety of risk factors that you can control and there are some that you can’t control.

Here are just some of the risk factors associated with high cholesterol:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Family history of high cholesterol
  • Certain inherited medical conditions
  • Age

Things like age and family history are obviously out of your control, but things like smoking or not being physically active are definitely up to you. Fortunately, limiting many of the risk factors associated with high cholesterol will mean that you’re limiting risk factors for a wide variety of other conditions as well.

There Usually Aren’t Any Symptoms

Because high cholesterol doesn’t usually come with any noticeable symptoms or warning signs, it’s important to talk with your doctor about getting your cholesterol levels checked.

To get your levels checked, your primary care provider can administer a blood test that will check your levels of LDL, HDL, and triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood). Below are general guidelines from the CDC about where your cholesterol levels should be:

  • LDL – Less than 100 mg/dL
  • HDG – Greater than or equal to 60 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides – Less than 150 mg/dL

Remember, these are just basic guidelines. Your primary care doctor can help you analyze your results to determine if you have high cholesterol and if you need to take any action to lower your cholesterol.

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