Understanding Your Cholesterol Levels

High cholesterol affects about one in three Americans. While cholesterol helps your body function normally, having too much of it can lead to heart disease and stroke.

High cholesterol doesn’t produce warning signs or symptoms. The only way to determine if you have high cholesterol levels is through a blood test. The results provide your cholesterol levels, which your physician considers along with other information to calculate your risk of cardiovascular disease and determine an appropriate treatment.

The physicians at Macomb Medical Clinic in Sterling Heights, Michigan, help patients identify and treat high cholesterol. They provide screenings and diagnostic tests to determine if your cholesterol levels are high and require medication, lifestyle changes, or other interventions to protect your health.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a substance found in your blood. It has a waxy, fat-like consistency. While cholesterol plays an important role in the formation of cell membranes, it also helps your body make Vitamin D, hormones, and substances that assist with digestion.

Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need to make your body work properly. However, cholesterol can also be found in some types of food. When you eat these foods, they can encourage your liver to make more cholesterol than necessary and result in your having too much cholesterol in your body.

Having too much cholesterol can build up in the walls of your arteries and form plaque. As plaque builds up, it can cause a narrowing of the arteries. When plaque builds up in coronary arteries, the arteries that bring blood to your heart, it can prevent your heart from receiving the oxygen and blood it needs. This is called coronary artery disease.

When plaque bursts, it releases cholesterol into your bloodstream and can cause your blood to clot. When the flow of blood to your heart is blocked by a clot, it can cause a heart attack. When a blood clot interferes with blood reaching your brain, it can result in a stroke.

Types of cholesterol

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is considered “bad cholesterol.” When it travels through your bloodstream, LDL deposits in the walls of your arteries and can make your arteries narrow.

Eating too many foods that are high in saturated and trans fat can contribute to having too much LDL. You can also have too much LDL because of genetics.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered “good cholesterol.” HDL travels through your bloodstream, picks up the bad cholesterol, and takes it to your liver, where it is removed from your body.

Triglycerides, a type of fat your body uses to store energy, also contribute to your overall cholesterol level. Triglycerides occur in your blood mostly from the food you eat when you consume more calories than your body can use. Triglycerides can also lead to blocked arteries. 

What the numbers mean

The American Heart Association recommends that all adults have their cholesterol checked every four to six years, starting at age 20, the age at which cholesterol levels can start to increase. You may need to have more frequent testing if you have high cholesterol or other risk factors.

When you have a blood test for cholesterol, your cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood, abbreviated as mg/dL. Recommended healthy blood cholesterol levels differ by age and sex. The goal is to have high HDL and low LDL levels.

The following results are considered healthy cholesterol levels for adults age 20 and over:

Treatment for high cholesterol

Your physician considers more than the numbers to determine your risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Other risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or smoking can compound your risk for these conditions. Your family history may also contribute to having a higher risk of complications from high cholesterol.

You may need to take medications called statins to control your cholesterol. Taking these medications, while eating a healthy diet and following a regular exercise program, can often help reduce your risk for heart attack or stroke and help you stay healthy.

Find out if you’re at risk for the complications caused by high cholesterol. Schedule an appointment online or call our office to arrange a consultation.

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