What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance your liver produces to protect nerves and to make cell tissue and certain hormones. Your body also gets cholesterol from the food you eat. This includes eggs, meats, and dairy. Too much bad cholesterol (LDL) can be bad for your health. There is “good” (HDL) cholesterol and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol
What is the difference between “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol?
Good cholesterol is known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL). It removes cholesterol from the bloodstream. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the “bad” cholesterol.
If your total cholesterol level is high because of a high LDL level, you might be at greater risk of heart disease or stroke. However, if your total cholesterol level is high only because of a high HDL level, you’re probably not at higher risk.
Triglycerides are another type of fat in your blood. When you eat more calories than your body can use, it turns the additional calories into triglycerides.
Changing your lifestyle (diet and exercise) can improve your cholesterol levels, lower LDL and triglycerides, and raise HDL.
- Your ideal cholesterol level will depend on your risk for heart disease.
- Total cholesterol level– less than 200 is best, but it depends on your HDL and LDL levels.
- LDL cholesterol levels– less than 130 is best, but this depends on your risk for heart disease.
- HDL cholesterol levels– 60 or higher reduce your risk for heart disease.
- Triglycerides– less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) is best.
Symptoms of high cholesterol
Commonly, there are no specific symptoms of high cholesterol. You could have high cholesterol and not know it.
If you have high cholesterol, your body may store the extra cholesterol in your arteries. These are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. A buildup of cholesterol in your arteries is called plaque. With time, plaque can become hard and make your arteries narrow. Large deposits of plaque can completely block an artery. Cholesterol plaques can also break apart, leading to the formation of a blood clot that blocks the flow of blood.
A blocked artery to the heart can lead to a heart attack. A blocked artery to your brain can trigger a stroke.
Many people don’t realize that they have high cholesterol until they experience one of these deadly events. Some people find out through routine check-ups that include blood tests.
What causes high cholesterol?
Your liver makes cholesterol, but you also get cholesterol from food. Consuming too many foods that are high in fat can raise your cholesterol level.
Being overweight and sedentary also causes high cholesterol. If you are overweight, you probably have a higher level of triglycerides. If you never exercise and are not active in general, it can lower your HDL (good cholesterol).
Your family history also affects your cholesterol level. Research has shown that high cholesterol tends to run in families. If you have an immediate family member that has it, you could have it, also.
Smoking also causes high cholesterol. It lowers your HDL (good cholesterol).
How is high cholesterol diagnosed?
You can not know if you have high cholesterol without having it checked. A basic blood test will show your cholesterol level.
Men 35 years of age and older and women 45 years of age and older should have their cholesterol checked. Men and women 20 years old and older that have risk factors for heart disease should have their cholesterol checked. Teenagers might need to be checked if they are taking certain medications or have a strong family history of high cholesterol. Ask your doctor how often you should have your cholesterol checked.
Risk factors for heart disease include:
- High blood pressure
- Older age
- Having an immediate family member (parent or sibling) who has had heart disease
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of exercise
- High cholesterol treatment
If you have high cholesterol, you may have to make some lifestyle adjustments. If you smoke, quit. Exercise regularly. If you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10 pounds can improve your cholesterol levels and your risk for heart disease. Make sure to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish.
Depending on your risk factors, your doctor might prescribe medication and lifestyle adjustments.
For further information about Dr. Stengler’s practice and his clinic in Encinitas, California, please visit our website at MarkStengler.com or give us a call at (760) 274-2377.