LDL Cholesterol: The Bad Cholesterol
What LDL Cholesterol Test Results Mean
Although heart attacks are unpredictable, higher levels of LDL cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease. Until recently, guidelines for lowering that risk emphasized lowering cholesterol levels to reach specific target numbers. Current guidelines no longer focus on target numbers.
Instead, doctors and other health practitioners work with their patients to develop a personal strategy to reduce their LDL cholesterol by a certain percentage. That percentage and the strategy used to achieve it are based on your level of risk for heart problems or strokes.
To determine that risk, doctors use a calculator that figures out the chances of having a heart problem or stroke in the next 10 years.
The calculator takes several factors into account, including your cholesterol numbers, your age, blood pressure, smoking status, and use of blood pressure medicines. All of these things affect your chance of having heart problems.
When that risk is determined, your doctor will then work with you to plan a program of life style choices and medication that can lower both your cholesterol and overall risk.
What You Can Do to Lower LDL Cholesterol
Lifestyle choices that can lower cholesterol and your overall risk typically start with a diet and exercise plan.
An LDL cholesterol-lowering diet is low in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. Adding fiber and plant sterols (like cholesterol-lowering margarine) can further lower LDL levels. Sticking closely with a cholesterol-lowering diet can lower LDL levels by up to 30%.
Regular aerobic exercise lowers LDL cholesterol even further and increases HDL -- or "good" -- cholesterol.
If diet and exercise don't lower LDL levels enough, drug treatment may be needed. A variety of medications can lower LDL cholesterol. They include:
- Statins, the most effective and commonly used cholesterol drugs
- Bile acid sequestrants
Remember, many factors besides cholesterol affect your risk of heart disease. Smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and lack of exercise are also important contributors. Lowering LDL cholesterol is a good start, but it’s important to reduce these other risk factors as well.