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Managing your cholesterol: Understanding the numbers

Cholesterol, a waxy substance found in your blood, is a major factor in determining your heart’s health. With cardiovascular disease being the number one cause of death in the United States, it’s important to be aware of, understand and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. The only way to determine if you have high cholesterol is through a blood test, as it has no visible symptoms.

It’s important to understand that not all cholesterol is bad, it’s actually an essential fat. But, both “good” and “bad” cholesterol levels need to be kept in check. Diet, exercise, age, genetics, gender, obesity and smoking are all factors that can effect your cholesterol levels. Here are some things you should know to help you work toward a healthier lifestyle.

There are 3 different types of cholesterol:

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL): is referred to as the “good cholesterol” that helps keep your arteries clean and free of plaque buildup. A high level of HDL is considered good and can lower your chance of developing heart disease. Levels greater than 60 mg/DL are considered healthy and anything lower than 40 mg/DL is not good
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): is the “bad cholesterol.” This type of cholesterol tends to collect on the artery walls. It has the potential to cause blockages and could eventually lead to a heart attack. In most cases, the lower the LDL the better. Most people should aim for an LDL level below 130 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides are a type of fat in your blood that is used for energy. It’s important to maintain a healthy level of triglycerides, as a high level could increase your chance of a heart attack. A triglyceride level of 100 mg/dL or lower is considered ideal by the American Heart Association.

It is recommended that you get your cholesterol checked every four to six years, unless you have risk factors for heart disease. Most tests require fasting before a blood sample is taken. The sample helps analyze the HDL, LDL and triglyceride levels.

Once you review the numbers with your doctor, you can work together to develop an action plan to decrease the risk of developing heart problems, or continue heart healthy habits.

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