Almost everyone has heard the word “cholesterol” mentioned in their daily life. More times than not, this word is tied to a negative meaning due to the outstanding number of adults in the U.S. whose low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, is high. Even though not all cholesterol is bad, those who do not have their cholesterol levels under control are at a major risk for heart disease.
Since cholesterol can be confusing, let’s start with the basics. According to The American Heart Association, cholesterol is a “waxy” entity in your blood. The human body requires cholesterol to create cells, hormones and vitamins. The liver produces the cholesterol that the human body needs. The rest comes from the food we consume.
There are two kinds of cholesterol — HDL cholesterol (also known as “good cholesterol”) and LDL cholesterol (also known as “bad cholesterol”). If your blood contains too much LDL cholesterol and/or not enough HDL cholesterol, then over time, the cholesterol will build up in your blood vessels and arteries, increasing the risk of blocking proper blood flow, which can quickly become serious or even deadly. The most significant risk of high cholesterol is heart disease, heart attack and stroke caused by these blockages.
According to The National Heart and Lung Institute, the most common cause of high cholesterol is unhealthy lifestyle choices. Unhealthy lifestyle choices that increase your risk of high cholesterol include smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, eating foods high in saturated fats, stress and drinking too much alcohol. However, uncontrollable factors such as genetics, age, sex, race, certain medical conditions and certain medications can also have an effect on your cholesterol levels. These medical conditions include obesity, diabetes, HIV infections, kidney disease, sleep apnea and lupus.
While some risk factors – such as family history – may be out of our control, there are other ways to reduce or prevent high cholesterol, such as exercising, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and taking medication as prescribed. Adults age 20 and older should have their cholesterol levels checked every four to six years. Since high cholesterol has no symptoms, patients might not know that their cholesterol is too high, unless it’s measured by a doctor with a blood test.
Don’t let high cholesterol sneak up on you and cause serious health issues! By knowing your risk factors, regularly getting your blood tested, and following a heart-healthy diet, you can avoid the risks of high cholesterol. Seriously consider making an appointment with your primary care physician to have your cholesterol levels checked. This way, you and your doctor can go over the best plan of attack against high cholesterol for you.