You need cholesterol to build healthy cells. Cholesterol has numerous essential functions including maintaining cell membranes, aiding in sex hormone production, insulating nerve fibers, converting sunshine into vitamin D and breaking down fat-soluble vitamins.
However, if the amount of cholesterol in your body gets too high, your risk of heart disease goes up, because fatty deposits form in your blood vessels and your heart has to work harder to pump blood. This can be managed through cholesterol medications, however, high cholesterol is often not treated. Untreated high cholesterol can cause anything from chest pain to a heart attack.
In addition, it can reduce how much oxygen-rich blood your body receives. Along with increasing the risk of a heart attack, it can cause a stroke because it decreases the blood flow to your brain.
You could be at very high risk without noticing any symptoms of high cholesterol until they become severe. That's why it's important to see your doctor regularly and get your cholesterol checked.
Your doctor will give you a blood test called a lipoprotein profile, which you take after fasting for at least nine to 12 hours. The test measures your blood levels of LDL (also known as "bad cholesterol") that causes buildup in the arteries, and of HDL (also known as "good cholesterol") that helps prevent buildup. It also measures your total cholesterol level and the level of a fat called triglycerides in your blood.
Pay close attention to both your total cholesterol levels and your LDL levels. A total cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL and LDL level of less than 100 mg/dL is considered best.
When your total cholesterol level reaches 200-239 mg/dL or your LDL level is 130-159 mg/dL, your doctor may tell you it is borderline high. If your levels are higher than those amounts, you have high cholesterol.
There are risk factors for high cholesterol that you can't control. You may have a family history of high cholesterol or early heart disease. Your risk increases if you are a man aged 45 or older or a woman aged 55 or older. A woman's risk of high LDL cholesterol may increase after menopause.
Many risk factors can be controlled. You can reduce your risk by consuming a diet low in trans fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as increasing your physical activity. If you are overweight, losing weight can also lower your risk.
Read food labels to see how much cholesterol foods contain. Choose foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol. You can help your body lower bad cholesterol levels by eating more soluble fiber, which is found in cereal grains, peas, beans, and many fruits and vegetables.
Eliminating trans fats from your diet also helps because they increase your bad cholesterol and decrease your good cholesterol. Trans fats often are found in margarine, snack cakes and crackers.
Your doctor may prescribe cholesterol medications to help treat and regulate your cholesterol. The most commonly prescribed high cholesterol drugs belong to a group of drugs called statins, which block a substance in your liver that your body needs to make cholesterol. Statins cause your liver to remove cholesterol from your blood. They also may reabsorb cholesterol built up on your artery walls. The most popular statins include simvastatin and atorvastatin, which is the generic for Lipitor.
There are other cholesterol medications that your doctor may prescribe to reduce your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
If you have high cholesterol and do not treat it, it can cause serious damage to your heart. With appropriate treatment for high cholesterol, you can lead a regular lifestyle by following a heart-healthy diet, exercising and taking prescribed medications. Visit our Heart Health page for more information and to download or print free prescription discount coupons.