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The Baby Boomer Heart: Cholesterol Rising

People between ages 45-60 years are at risk for high cholesterol. High cholesterol can build up even in trim, active people.

Balancing Your Risks: Food and Genetics continued...

If you're one of them, you probably will need to eat a careful low-fat diet and take medication eventually.

For the rest of us, experts say we are driving our cholesterol up with a rich, high-fat diet and a lack of exercise. And in the process, we're putting our hearts at risk.

What are the specific dangers? Krumholz says when LDL rises too high, it collects and sticks inside artery walls. This contributes to clot formation, and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. It can also cause blood vessels to become stiff and hard, which, in turn, increases the risk of high blood pressure.

Moreover, the latest research shows that LDL cholesterol also inflames artery walls, causing a release of chemicals that may be directly related to heart attack and even sudden death.

How to Tell if Your Cholesterol Is Putting You at Risk

Although cholesterol is a leading factor in heart disease, Underberg says that, on its own, it's not a completely accurate predictor of heart disease risk. It's just one factor of many risk factors that may eventually lead to heart attack.

"It must be viewed in concert with what else is going on in your body -- your weight, body shape, blood pressure, and fitness level -- in order to obtain a true picture of heart health," he tells WebMD.

New, more sophisticated tests are also attempting to tease out the actual size of cholesterol particles in the body, which can make a difference in your risk. In studies thus far, large pieces of LDL cholesterol appear to be less dangerous for the heart than tiny particles, which sneak in under the lining of an artery and lead to inflammation.

Nonetheless, your cholesterol counts. So it's important for adults to know their total cholesterol count, as well as their LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels. Call your doctor to get your numbers from your last physical when you had blood work done. Then, compare them to these risk levels from the American Heart Association:

  • Total Cholesterol
    • Most Desirable: Less than 200 mg/dL
    • Risky: 200 to 239 mg/dL
    • Danger Zone: 240 mg/dL or more
  • LDL Cholesterol
    • Most Desirable: Under 100 mg/dL
    • Desirable: 100 to 129 mg/dL
    • Borderline: 130 to 159 mg/dL
    • Risky: 160 to 189 mg/dL
    • Danger Zone: 190 mg/dL or over
  • HDL Cholesterol
    • Most Desirable: 60 mg/dL or higher
    • Risky: Less than 40 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides
    • Most Desirable: Under 150 mg/dL
    • Risky: 150 to 199 mg/dL
    • Danger Zone: 200 mg/dL or higher

Controlling Cholesterol: What to Do

If your HDL is low and your LDL is high, your first line of defense is to change your diet -- a strategy that can bring results in as little as eight to 12 weeks.

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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