September is National Cholesterol Education Month, so there’s no better time to get your blood cholesterol checked and take steps to lower it if is high.
High blood cholesterol affects more than 65 million Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. You can have high cholesterol and not even know it, but it is a serious condition that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Lowering cholesterol lessens your risk for developing cardiovascular disease and reduces the chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
How does cholesterol cause cardiovascular disease?
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in your blood. When there is too much of it, it builds up in the walls of the arteries. This can cause “hardening of the arteries” over time, so that arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart or brain may be slowed down or blocked. Blood carries oxygen to the heart, and you may suffer chest pain or a heart attack if not enough blood and oxygen can reach your heart. Likewise, if the blood and oxygen flow to the brain is blocked, a “brain attack” or stroke occurs.
It’s important to find out your cholesterol number to lessen the risk or severity of cardiovascular disease, even if you already have it. A blood test called a “lipoprotein profile” gives information about your total cholesterol number, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides.
Your total cholesterol level should be less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood). The optimal LDL cholesterol level is less than 100 mg/dL, while your HDL levels should be 60 mg/dL or more.
What affects cholesterol levels?
You can control many factors affecting cholesterol levels, including:
* Diet. Reducing the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet helps lower your blood cholesterol level. Trans fats, sometimes listed as “partially hydrogenated oils” on ingredient lists, are a main cause of hardening of the arteries.
* Weight. Losing weight can lower your bad cholesterol levels and raise good levels.
* Physical activity. Regular exercise also can help lower bad levels and raise good levels.
* Cigarette smoking. Smoking lowers good cholesterol levels and increases the tendency for blood to clot.
Risk factors you can’t control include:
* Age and gender. Cholesterol levels rise with age. Women tend to have lower cholesterol levels than men of the same age before menopause. After menopause, women’s cholesterol levels tend to rise.
* Heredity. High blood cholesterol and cardiovascular disease can run in families.
Chest Pain and Stroke Hotline
For help identifying signs and symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, phone our award-winning Chest Pain and Stroke Hotline at 1-800-575-1911 to speak with a registered nurse at Western Baptist.