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:

Total Cholesterol Category
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.

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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.

5) Can I Lower My Risk for Heart Disease If I Lower My Cholesterol?

Your risk for heart disease is lower when you have low total cholesterol and low LDL. Remember, a higher HDL number is better, however.

6) What Makes My Cholesterol Levels Go Up?

Eating foods such as red meat, whole milk dairy products, egg yolks, and some kinds of fish can make your cholesterol levels go up. Being overweight can make your bad cholesterol go up and your good cholesterol go down. Also, after women go through menopause, their bad cholesterol levels tend to increase.

7) What Can I Do To Lower My Cholesterol Levels?

You can lower your cholesterol levels by making changes to your lifestyle. Here are some tips.

  • Eat foods with less fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
  • Take off the skin and fat from meat, poultry, and fish.
  • Eat food that has been broiled, baked, roasted, or poached instead of fried.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables everyday.
  • Eat cereals, breads, rice, and pasta made from whole grains, such as whole wheat bread or spaghetti.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise everyday. Talk to your doctor about the safest and best ways for you to exercise.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Take your cholesterol medication as prescribed by your doctor.

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8) What Drugs Are Used to Treat High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol-lowering drugs include:

  • Bile-acid resins
  • Fibrates 
  • Niacin
  • Proprotein convertase subtilisin kexin type 9 (PCSK9) inhibitors
  • Statins

Cholesterol-lowering medicine is most effective when combined with a low-cholesterol diet.

9) If a Product's Package Reads "Low Cholesterol," Does That Mean It's Low in Fat?

Not necessarily. Numerous foods marked "low cholesterol" can contain oils that may be high in saturated fats, which are not healthy. In addition, unsaturated fats like vegetable oil can also be high in calories. The total amount of fat in your diet should be kept to about 20% to 30% of your daily intake.

10) At What Age Should People Begin Having Their Cholesterol Checked?

It is important to have your cholesterol level checked when you are young, since clogging of the arteries (atherosclerosis) is a gradual process that takes many years. Total cholesterol should be measured at least every five years starting at age 20.

Note: If you have high cholesterol and your doctor has told you there may be an underlying genetic cause, you may want to have your children, under age 20, get their cholesterol levels tested. Talk to your children's health care providers about cholesterol testing.

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 12, 2015

Sources

SOURCE:

American Heart Association

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