The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 102 million adult Americans have higher cholesterol levels than what’s considered to be healthy. Out of these people, more than 35 million have dangerously high cholesterol levels that put them at an increased risk for heart disease. Unfortunately, many people who have high cholesterol often don’t even realize it because there are often no immediate symptoms associated with raised cholesterol levels.

Because high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, it’s extremely important to monitor your cholesterol levels and know what you can do to keep them at a healthy level. Keep reading to learn more about cholesterol, how to find out what your levels are, and what you can do to keep them healthy.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the fats (or lipids) in your blood. While cholesterol is important, as it helps your body build healthy cells, too much of it can increase your risk of heart disease. Higher cholesterol levels can cause fatty deposits to develop in your blood vessels, eventually making it harder for blood to flow through your arteries. Once this happens, your heart may not get as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs, which increases the risk of a heart attack. Similarly, a stroke can occur if your brain is not receiving enough blood due to reduced blood flow.

Getting Your Cholesterol Checked

High cholesterol by itself typically does not have any symptoms, which is why it is so important to have your levels tested regularly. Doctors can check your cholesterol levels with a simple blood test. The American Heart Association recommends that cholesterol levels should be checked every five years.

When your doctor reads your cholesterol levels, he or she will look at the following to determine whether or not your levels are within the accepted healthy range:

  • Total Cholesterol - Less than 170 mg/dL is considered healthy

  • Low LDL (“bad”) cholesterol - Less than 110 mg/dL is considered healthy

  • High HDL (“good”) cholesterol - 35 mg/dL or higher is considered healthy

  • Triglycerides - Less than 150 mg/dL is considered healthy

Keeping Your Cholesterol Levels Healthy

High cholesterol can be inherited, but it usually occurs because of an unhealthy lifestyle. Risk factors include obesity, poor diet, a lack of exercise and smoking. To try and prevent high cholesterol, you should follow basic health guidelines should remaining at a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, getting in at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, and not smoking.

What To Do If You Have High Cholesterol

If you get your blood test results back and your cholesterol levels fall in the unhealthy range, your doctor may prescribe medications to treat your high cholesterol. High cholesterol can also be treated and reduced with a healthy diet; a low-fat diet with foods high in fiber is recommended specifically for those with high cholesterol. Getting 30 minutes of physical activity a day will also help lower cholesterol levels. Depending on how high your cholesterol is, your doctor may also want to take additional steps monitor your heart health.

Cholesterol may seem like it is just a number, but it can have a very direct effect on your heart health. Keeping up-to-date with blood tests for cholesterol readings is the only way to know for sure exactly what your levels are. If you are due for your cholesterol test, be sure to schedule an appointment with your doctor or by calling our offices at 412-231-2957.