Stay in control to help prevent heart disease, heart attack and stroke
Story Courtesy of Family Features
Understanding and improving cholesterol is important for people of all ages, including children and teens. Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels can help keep your heart healthy and lower your chances of getting heart disease or having a stroke.
High cholesterol usually has no symptoms. In fact, about 38% of adults in the United States are diagnosed with high cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association.
A waxy, fat-like substance created by the liver and consumed from meat, poultry and dairy products, cholesterol isn’t inherently bad for you. However, too much cholesterol circulating in the blood can pose a problem.
The two types of cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein, which is considered “bad,” and high-density lipoprotein, which can be thought of as “good” cholesterol. Too much of the bad kind, or not enough of the good, increases the risk of cholesterol slowly building up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain.
Cholesterol can join with other substances to form a thick, hard deposit on the inside of the arteries called plaque. This can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. If a blood clot forms, it may be more likely to get stuck in one of these narrowed arteries, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
Your body naturally produces all the bad LDL it needs. An unhealthy lifestyle can make your body produce more LDL than required — lack of physical activity, obesity, eating an unhealthy diet and smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke can be contributors.
In addition to unhealthy habits, some people inherit genes from their parents or grandparents that cause them to have too much cholesterol and can lead to premature atherosclerotic heart disease. If you have a family history of problems related to high cholesterol, it’s important to get your levels checked.
Adults age 20 and older should have their cholesterol and other traditional risk factors checked every 4 to 6 years, as long as their risk remains low. After age 40, your health care professional will use an equation to calculate your 10-year risk of heart attack or stroke. People with cardiovascular disease, and those at elevated risk, may need their cholesterol and other risk factors assessed more often.
If you have high cholesterol, understanding your risk for heart disease and stroke is one of the most important things you can do, along with taking steps to lower your cholesterol.
Often, simply changing certain behaviors can help bring your numbers into line. Lower your cholesterol by eating a heart-healthy diet. While grocery shopping, look for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark to help identify foods that can be part of an overall healthy eating pattern.
Other lifestyle changes include losing weight, quitting smoking and becoming more physically active. For some people, lifestyle changes may prevent or manage unhealthy cholesterol levels. For others, medication may also be needed. Work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.
► To learn more about managing your cholesterol, visit heart.org/cholesterol.