Frequently Asked Questions About Cholesterol
1) What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally in the body and is made by the liver. Cholesterol is also present in foods we eat. People need cholesterol for the body to function normally. Cholesterol is present in membranes (walls) of every cell in the body, including the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines, and heart.
2) Why Should I Be Concerned About Cholesterol?
Too much cholesterol in your body means that you have an increased risk of getting cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease. If you have too much cholesterol in your body, the cholesterol can build up on the walls of the arteries that carry blood to your heart. This buildup, which occurs over time, causes less blood and oxygen to get to your heart. This can cause chest pain and heart attacks. Too much cholesterol can also increase your risk of stroke.
3) What's the Difference Between "Good" and "Bad" Cholesterol?
HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as "good" cholesterol. HDL takes the "bad," LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol out of your blood and keeps it from building up in your arteries. LDL cholesterol is known as bad cholesterol because it can build up on the walls of your arteries and increase your chances of getting cardiovascular disease. When being tested for cholesterol, make sure you get numbers of total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
4) How Much Cholesterol Is Too Much?
Doctors recommend your total cholesterol stay below 200 mg/dL. Here is the breakdown:
|Less than 200||Desirable|
|200 - 239||Borderline high|
|240 and above||High|
An LDL (bad cholesterol) level of 190 or above is considered a serious risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and other problems caused by clogged arteries. In the past guidelines focused on lowering LDL levels to specific "target" numbers that were considered safer. Lowering cholesterol, though, is just one part of an overall strategy for reducing your risk for heart disease.
HDL (good) cholesterol protects against heart disease, so for HDL, a higher number is better. A level less than 40 is low and is considered a risk factor because it increases your risk for developing heart disease. HDL levels of 60 or more help to lower your risk for heart disease.
Your doctor will first work with you to determine your current level of risk, considering such things as your age, whether or not you smoke, and your blood pressure. Then based on your risk, the doctor will recommend healthy lifestyle changes and possibly medications to reduce your cholesterol level. But rather than giving you a target number to shoot for, your doctor will recommend a certain percentage you should use as a guide for lowering cholesterol. Then together, the two of you will consider the options you have for achieving that percentage
Triglyceride levels that are borderline high (150-199) or high (200 or more) may require treatment in some people.