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Heart Disease and Lowering Cholesterol

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 enough blood and oxygen cannot 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 most Americans 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 a 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

Here's how to interpret your cholesterol numbers:

Total CholesterolCategory
Less than 200Desirable
200 - 239Borderline High
240 and aboveHigh


 

LDL CholesterolLDL-Cholesterol Category
Less than 100Optimal
100 - 129Near optimal/above optimal
130 - 159Borderline high
160 - 189High
190 and aboveVery high


 

HDL*HDL-Cholesterol Category
60 or moreDesirable - helps to lower risk of
heart disease
Less than 40Major risk factor -- increases the
risk for developing heart disease

*HDL (good) cholesterol protects against heart disease, so for HDL, higher numbers are better.

 

TriglyceridesHDL-Cholesterol Category
Less than 150Normal (desirable)
heart disease
150-199Borderline high

200-499

>500

High

Very high 

WebMD Medical Reference

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