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Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that's found in all cells of the body. Cholesterol travels through your blood and helps to make hormones like testosterone and estrogen. It also helps to make vitamin D, which keeps bones strong and healthy.
Cholesterol comes in two forms: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. High levels of HDL are associated with lower risk for heart disease; high levels of LDL are associated with an increased risk for heart disease.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that's present in all cells of the body. It's essential for normal body function, but too much cholesterol can cause health problems.
Cholesterol is measured as:
Total cholesterol (TC): This is the sum of HDL and LDL cholesterol.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein): Also known as "good" cholesterol, HDL carries extra fat from cells to the liver where it can be broken down or excreted from the body. High levels of HDL are associated with lower risk for heart disease and stroke because they help prevent buildup of plaque in arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle
Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
A total cholesterol level of 200 to 239 mg/dL is considered borderline high.
A total cholesterol level of 240 or higher is considered high.
If you have diabetes, your target LDL goal may be lower than 130 mg/dL.
The first step to managing your cholesterol is to make sure you're getting the right amount of exercise. You should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week. If you can't fit in that much time, try to do at least 10 minutes at least five days a week.
If diet changes are in order for you, make them gradual so that your body has time to adjust and adapt. Start by eliminating foods high in saturated fat from your diet (like red meat) and replacing them with healthier options like fish or poultry without skin; nuts; seeds; low-fat dairy products like yogurt; beans/legumes such as lentils or black beans; whole grains (such as brown rice); fresh fruits; vegetables
When to see your primary care physician
If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, it is important that you follow up with your primary care physician. Your doctor will want to assess the severity of the condition and determine if any additional testing is needed. If so, they may recommend a lipid panel or other blood tests.
How often should I get my cholesterol checked?
Your doctor will likely recommend that you get a new cholesterol test every three years if everything looks normal on previous tests; however, this can vary depending on several factors such as age or family history of heart disease (see "What are other factors?").
Your primary care physician is an important part of your health team and can help you manage your cholesterol. Your doctor can provide advice on lifestyle changes, medications and supplements that may be appropriate for you.
If you have high cholesterol and don't take steps to control it, there are several potential complications. These include:
Heart disease and stroke. High levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol can lead to buildup of plaque in your arteries, which can cause blockages that lead to heart attack or stroke. When people have had a heart attack or stroke because of blocked arteries, they may need surgery or another procedure called angioplasty/stenting (where a balloon catheter is inserted into an artery to widen it).
High blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure puts extra stress on your heart and kidneys, which can eventually damage them over time if left untreated; this condition is called hypertension when systolic readings are above 140 mm Hg or diastolic readings are above 90 mm Hg
There are several risk factors that can increase your chances of developing high cholesterol. These include:
Age. As you get older, the amount of cholesterol in your blood tends to rise. This is because as we age our bodies produce less of the hormone testosterone (which helps keep levels down).
Gender. Women tend to have higher levels than men do due to their hormones and other factors related to childbearing and menstruation cycles.
Family history. If anyone in your family has had heart disease or stroke before age 55, then you're more likely than others not only to develop it yourself but also at an earlier age--even if they don't have high cholesterol themselves!
If you're concerned about your cholesterol numbers, it's important to see a primary care physician. They can help manage the condition and determine if further testing is necessary. If you have questions or want to schedule an appointment contact us at (212) 991-9991.