Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs. But when you have too much of the wrong kind of cholesterol in your blood, it can build up on the walls of your arteries and form blockages — which can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
There are two kinds of cholesterol lipoproteins: High-density or “good” (HDL); and low-density or “bad” (LDL). High levels of low-density cholesterol is what results in a diagnosis of “high” cholesterol.
Screening is the key to detecting high cholesterol. Because it does not carry any symptoms, many people do not know that their cholesterol is too high. Your doctor can do a simple blood test to check your cholesterol level.
The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults aged 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every 5 years. You may need to have your cholesterol checked more often if any of the following statements applies to you:
- You are a man older than age 45 or a woman older than age 50.
- You have other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
- Your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher.
- Your HDL cholesterol is lower than 40 mg/dL.
Seventy-one million American adults have high cholesterol, but only one-third of them have the condition under control.
How can you prevent or treat high cholesterol? With therapeutic lifestyle changes:
- A healthy diet. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats, which tend to raise cholesterol levels. Other types of fats, such as polyunsaturated fats, can actually lower blood cholesterol levels. Eating fiber also can help lower cholesterol.
- Regular exercise. Physical activity can help lower cholesterol. The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for 2 hours and 30 minutes every week.
- Maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can raise your cholesterol levels. Losing weight can help lower your cholesterol.
- Not smoking. If you smoke, quit as soon as possible.
Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions and stay on your medications, if prescribed, to control your cholesterol.