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If you have diabetes, you're more likely to get heart disease. Because of that, you need to have your cholesterol levels and triglycerides (a type of blood fat) checked at least once a year. A simple blood test is all you need.

It also helps to know as much as you can about cholesterol and the steps you can take to keep your levels where they should be.

The golden rule: Keep your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol level down and your “good” (HDL) cholesterol level up.

What Is Cholesterol?

Your body actually needs some cholesterol. But many people have too much of the “bad” kind and not enough of the “good” type.  Over time, that can lead to a buildup called plaque in your arteries, leaving less space for blood to flow.

Blocked heart vessels can cause chest pain or a heart attack.

The "good" cholesterol, called HDL, helps your body get rid of bad cholesterol. The higher your HDL level, the better.

Another type of blood fat, called triglycerides, also makes heart disease more likely, although it’s not the same as cholesterol. You want to keep your triglyceride levels low.

What Affects Your Cholesterol Levels?

Things that can affect your cholesterol levels include:

  • Diet. Saturated fat in the foods you eat raises your “bad” cholesterol level.
  • Weight. Extra pounds increase your cholesterol and your chance of getting heart disease.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise can lower bad cholesterol and bring up the good.
  • Age and gender. Cholesterol levels rise with age. Before menopause, women tend to have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After menopause, women's good cholesterol goes down.
  • Genes. Your heredity influences how much cholesterol your body makes. High levels can run in families.
  • Other causes. Certain medications and medical conditions can raise levels. High triglycerides could result from diabetes or thyroid problems. Losing weight and avoiding foods high in calories and sugar can help.