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The Dangers of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol is tough on arteries and your health. Here's how to fight back.

Lowering Your Cholesterol

While LDL is harmful, HDL, a "good" form of cholesterol, helps arteries. Besides quieting down inflammation in damaged arteries, "it blocks the oxidation of LDL," Gotto says, "and we think that HDL has the ability to pull some of the cholesterol out of the cells on the arterial wall and transport it back to the liver, where the body can get rid of it. The higher the level of HDL, the lower the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease."

Know your cholesterol numbers, he adds. "It's better to talk to your doctor about atherosclerosis before you get symptoms, and unfortunately for many people, the first symptom may be the fatal one if they have sudden cardiac death or cardiac arrest."

Gotto suggests people talk to their doctor about risk factors for atherosclerosis while still in their 20s and get a blood test to check cholesterol levels. Before age 40, get a cholesterol test every three years, Gotto says, and after age 40, test annually.

When Richman got her unsettling results, she replaced whole-milk products with low-fat dairy foods. She ate more heart-healthy salmon. She also began walking for 40 minutes, five times each week. The changes have paid off slowly. Her cholesterol readings have dropped a bit, from a high of 269 to 247, and she hopes to get her reading low enough to avoid taking cholesterol medications.

"At the beginning, it was 'Oh, wow, I'm sick,'" she says. "But I was able to start getting my levels down, so that's been very encouraging."

Could You Have Atherosclerosis?

You may be at a higher risk of atherosclerosis if you:

  • Have high levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have diabetes
  • Are obese
  • Are physically inactive
  • Smoke
  • Are older
  • Have a family history of early atherosclerosis
  • Are male

Originally published in the March/April 2008 issue ofWebMD the Magazine.

Reviewed on October 25, 2010

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