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WebMD My Story: Living With High Cholesterol

A reader sheds light on a genetic condition that affects her and her family.
By Wenter Blair
WebMD Feature

In October 2009, no one would have thought I had heart disease. Then, as now, I was 5 feet 4 inches, 120 pounds, and eating really well. I was only 40 years old. I was at a restaurant and had the worst hot flash ever, plus terrible chest pressure. My doctor insisted I come in. After taking an EKG, she said, "You just had a heart attack." I was shocked and panicked. I didn't want to leave my two children without a mother.

Even then, my doctors couldn't believe I had heart disease. But a heart catheterization, a kind of imaging procedure, revealed that four of my arteries were 90% blocked. Over the next 2 weeks I had five stents (or tubes) put in my arteries.

Recommended Related to Cholesterol Management

Cholesterol Management Resources

This organization is dedicated to advocacy and education about heart disease. This link will take you to its web site. American Heart Association  

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As it turns out, I have familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), a genetic disorder that results in a dangerous buildup of LDL, the so-called "bad" cholesterol. The disorder often isn't diagnosed until a person has an early heart attack or stroke. I learned that my son Christian, now 14 and a super-fit kid, also has FH and could have a stroke or heart attack as early as his late teens.

Fortunately, he takes a low-dose statin, which lowers cholesterol levels and helps protect against heart disease. My body reacts badly to statins, so I am enrolled in a clinical trial of a drug that helps the body remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.

Today I am convinced I was allowed to live because I may be a little person, but I have a great big voice. I write and do public speaking about FH all over the country. I use FH to be bigger and happier, so my children see and hear the joy that comes with giving.

Tips on Children's Cholesterol

Ask for a cholesterol test for your child. The American Pediatric Association recommends testing all children between the ages of 9 and 11. A baby is born with FH every 5 minutes.

Ask for a genetic test or a cholesterol test for yourself if members of your family have had heart attacks when they seemed healthy. A very high LDL level, plus a family history of early heart disease, means you may have FH.

Live a heart-healthy life. Diet and exercise aren't enough to lower cholesterol if you have FH. But eating healthy foods and exercising have other heart-health benefits, help control weight, build strength and endurance, and prevent other diseases.

Cholesterol Questions for Your Doctor

1. What cholesterol tests should I have?

2. How often should I have them?

3. How can diet and exercise help my cholesterol levels?

4. What is my risk for heart disease?

5. What symptoms should I watch for?

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine." 

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Is Your Cholesterol Level Heart Healthy?
What is your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) level?

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or
Answer:
Desirable
0-199
Borderline
200-239
High
240+

Your level is currently

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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