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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Disease and Lowering Cholesterol

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What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol helps your body build new cells, insulate nerves, and produce hormones. Normally, the liver makes all the cholesterol the body needs. But cholesterol also enters your body from food, such as animal-based foods like milk, eggs, and meat. Too much cholesterol in your body is a risk factor for heart disease.

How Does High Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease?

When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries, causing a process called atherosclerosis, a form of heart disease. The arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart muscle is slowed down or blocked. The blood carries oxygen to the heart, and if not enough blood and oxygen reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.

There are two forms of cholesterol that many people are familiar with: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol.) These are the form in which cholesterol travels in the blood.

LDL is the main source of artery-clogging plaque. HDL actually works to clear cholesterol from the blood.

Triglycerides are another fat in our bloodstream. Research is now showing that high levels of triglycerides may also be linked to heart disease.

What Are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?

High cholesterol itself does not cause any symptoms, so many people are unaware that their cholesterol levels are too high. Therefore, it is important to find out what your cholesterol numbers are. Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of a heart attack or dying of heart disease, even if you already have it.

What Numbers Should I Look For?

Some recommend that everyone over age 20 should get their cholesterol levels measured at least once every 5 years. The test that is performed is a blood test called a lipoprotein profile. That includes:

  • Total cholesterol level
  • LDL (the "bad" cholesterol)
  • HDL (the "good" cholesterol)
  • Triglycerides
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