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What Is Cholesterol and Why Do I Need to Manage It?

By Griffin Hospital on 9/7/2017

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designated September as National Cholesterol Education Month to encourage individuals to get their cholesterol tested to take good care of their hearts.

The best way to know for sure if you have high cholesterol is a simple blood test administered by your physician.

A cholesterol screening test can reveal if you are one of the 73 million adults who have high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which increases your risk of heart disease and stroke - the top causes of death in the United States today. High cholesterol can be treated successfully with diet, exercise, and, if needed, medication individualized for you based on your health and medical history.

What is cholesterol?
Produced by your liver, cholesterol is essential to many life-sustaining functions. It helps your body make hormones and vitamin D, and it's also found in compounds - such as bile - that your body creates to help you digest food. However, too much cholesterol can cause a buildup in your bloodstream and hardening of your arteries.

There are two main categories of cholesterol:

  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) - Considered cholesterol's “bad” form, LDL enables cholesterol to create deposits (plaque) that build up and harden on the walls of blood vessels. When this happens in the coronary arteries (the arteries that serve your heart), it reduces your heart's supply of oxygen-rich blood.
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL) - HDL is the “good” cholesterol, because it helps reduce LDL levels.

Cholesterol levels – What is good, what is not?
Nearly half of all Americans have high or elevated cholesterol. Because high cholesterol doesn't cause any symptoms, only a blood test can reveal your cholesterol numbers.

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. Your cholesterol level is considered high if you have total cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or higher. It's considered borderline when it's between 200 and 239 mg/dL.

Total cholesterol levels below 200 mg/dL are considered ideal, but your individual target cholesterol level may be different, as determined by your doctor and depending on your risk factors for heart disease.

What are the dangers of high cholesterol?
Your body makes cholesterol, and you also get it when you eat eggs, meats, and dairy products. When you have more than your body needs, cholesterol can cause plaque to build up in your arteries. This thick, hard substance can clog your arteries like a blocked pipe. Reduced blood flow can lead to a stroke or heart attack.

Despite the risks, about one in three Americans have not had their cholesterol tested in the past five years – as recommended by The American Heart Association. High cholesterol may not worry you enough because it doesn’t cause symptoms or pain, but the risks can be very severe to your health.

If you don’t know your cholesterol levels or are overdue for a screening, please contact your primary care physician. For a list of physicians at Griffin Faculty Physicians, please click here.

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