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If you have diabetes, you’re already more likely to get heart disease. Because of that, you need to have your cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked at least once a year.

Cholesterol and Your Heart

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in certain foods, such as dairy products, eggs, and meat.

Your body also makes cholesterol to help create hormones and other substances. Having too much cholesterol in your body can lead to plaque forming in the walls of your arteries and leaving less space for blood to flow. Blocked heart vessels can cause chest pain or a heart attack.

Types of Blood Fat

Cholesterol travels through the blood attached to a protein. These bundles, called lipoproteins, have names  that may sound familiar:

  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Also called "bad" cholesterol, these can cause plaque to build up in your arteries. The more LDL in your blood, the greater your risk of heart disease.
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL). These are the "good" cholesterol that helps your body get rid of bad cholesterol. The higher your HDL level, the better.
  • Triglycerides/very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL). Triglycerides aren’t the same as cholesterol, but they are a type of fat that is linked to heart disease. They’re carried in the blood mainly by very-low-density lipoproteins. A high level, along with high LDL cholesterol, can make a heart attack more likely.

What Controls Your Cholesterol Levels?

Factors that can affect your cholesterol levels include:

  • Diet. Saturated fat and cholesterol in the foods you eat increase your levels.
  • Weight. Extra pounds can also raise your cholesterol and your chance of getting heart disease. Losing weight can help lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Exercise. Regular activity can also lower bad cholesterol and bring up the good. Try to get physical for 30 minutes on most days.
  • 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 partly decides 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.

How Is Cholesterol Tested?

Your doctor will recommend one of two screening tests:

  • A non-fasting test will show your total cholesterol level and may also show your HDL cholesterol.
  • A fasting test, called a lipid profile or a lipoprotein analysis, will measure your triglycerides, LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol.

Your doctor may start with a non-fasting lipid panel test and then recommend a lipid profile, based on your results.

Doctors recommend your cholesterol stay below 200 and triglycerides less than 150. Here's the breakdown:

Total Cholesterol Category
Less than 200 Best
200 - 239 Borderline High
240 and above High

 

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