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Get to know your cholesterol

Doctor using stethoscope on heart with afib line on heart

So, your doctor told you to pay close attention to your cholesterol because it’s a bit high. What does that mean? High cholesterol can put you at a greater risk for heart disease. It can also increase your chances of having a heart attack. In order to learn how to manage your cholesterol, you first have to understand how cholesterol works.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat that floats around in your blood and is made by your liver. It also comes from the food we eat. Too much of it is bad, but a little is needed to make sure your brain and organs work properly. Cholesterol also helps build healthy cells.

There are two types of cholesterol. They are LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol that can stick to your blood vessels and cause blockages. HDL cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol that makes it back to the liver, where it’s broken down properly.

How does “bad” cholesterol hurt me?

When there’s too much “bad” cholesterol floating around your blood, it can create fatty deposits, called “plaque” in your arteries. That build-up can cause a blockage, which can lead to heart disease and heart attack. The blockage causes your blood flow to slow. The blockage puts added stress on your heart.

Your heart needs oxygen to stay healthy and pump blood throughout your body. If not enough blood or oxygen can get back to your heart, you can suffer a heart attack.

How do I know if I have high cholesterol?

Your primary care doctor can check your cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that everyone have their cholesterol levels checked every four to six years after their 20th birthday.

If you smoke or have diabetes, you are at a greater risk of having high cholesterol. It’s best to make an appointment with your family doctor each year.

What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?

High cholesterol itself has no symptoms. The only way to know if your numbers are high is for your doctor to do a blood test. However, if you have high cholesterol, you are at risk for:

  • Chest pain
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

How do I lower my cholesterol?

If your doctor tells you to start managing your high cholesterol, here are five things you can do:

Eat Healthy

One of the best ways to limit the effects of high cholesterol is to change your diet to include low-sodium options. Most people eat about 3,400mg per salt a day. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a normal person eat no more than 2,500mg per day. A person with high cholesterol should try not to have more than 1,500mg per day.

You can find heart-healthy recipes on the AHA website or keep your eye on the NMC Health Facebook page for weekly suggestions.

Get enough exercise

Staying active can help you lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels. It also helps you maintain a healthy weight. The Surgeon General recommends adults get at least 2 ½ hours of exercise each week. Make it a family goal to go for a walk together, get outside and play or create your own workout regime at your local gym.

Quit smoking

Smoking wreaks havoc on your blood vessels and puts you at higher risk for all kinds of health problems. If your blood vessels are in poor shape, they could fall victim to blockages more easily. That increases your chance of heart attack. If you have high cholesterol or are at risk for high cholesterol, try to quit smoking to limit the negative effects on your body.

Limit alcohol

Moderation is key. Alcohol has been said to increase your HDL (“good”) cholesterol, but the benefits don’t outweigh the risks. Instead, try to limit your alcohol intake to only one drink a day (8 oz.) for women and men over the age of 65, and two drinks per day (8 oz. each) for men under the age of 65.

Get tested regularly

If you know you have high cholesterol or are at risk for high cholesterol, talk with your doctor. He or she will make sure you have the appropriate tests done to assess your risk. Take any and all medication as prescribed.

Lifestyle changes, like those mentioned above, should put you on a good path to managing and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.

Newton Medical Center partners with MDsave to make laboratory testing affordable for you. If you’re paying out of pocket, you can get a variety of procedures and tests at a reduced price.

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