American Heart Month 2019: Cholesterol and You
It’s February, which means it’s American Heart Month! This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is focusing in on the conversation about cholesterol. In the United States, 1 in 3 adults has high blood cholesterol, which can be a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke—so it’s definitely a conversation worth having with your doctor. But where do you start?
The CDC gives us five examples of good questions to bring up during your next visit.
What are my numbers? What do they mean?
Cholesterol is a substance made in your liver that, in short, helps your body digest fatty foods and make hormones. It travels through your blood vessels. The human body (with some exceptions) makes all the cholesterol it requires to function—if you have too much, it can build plaque in your arteries which can put you at risk for heart attack or stroke.
When your doctor tests your cholesterol levels, you’ll get back four key numbers: total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (your “good” cholesterol), low-density lipoprotein (your “bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides.
Your numbers can tell you a lot about your diet, but also about your overall health. If you’re unsure where your ranges should be, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for clarification, or for ways you can reach your ideal levels—which leads us into our next question.
What levels are right for me?
Your ideal levels depend on a wide variety of factors like your family history, diet, activity, age, existing health conditions, etc. Talk to your doctor about what levels are best for you—they’ll look at your overall health to determine whether or not your cholesterol levels require treatment or adjustment.
How often should I have my cholesterol checked?
The CDC recommends having your cholesterol tested at least once every 4 to 6 years. However, your doctor most likely tests you during your annual physical exam. If you have pre-existing conditions or other health issues, your doctor may test you even more frequently. You can also request a cholesterol test at any time.
What puts me at risk for high cholesterol?
There are many behaviors that can put you at risk for high cholesterol, which in turn can really hurt your heart. Some things that might come into play include:
- A family history of cholesterol problems
- A diabetes diagnosis
- Being overweight/obese
- Age (older women are more likely to have cholesterol problems as their estrogen levels decrease)
- Lack of physical activity
If you’re worried about these risk factors, talk to your doctor.
What can I do?
Reducing your cholesterol or keeping it at an ideal level can be done in several ways:
- Stop smoking. Smoking can do a lot of harm to more than just your cholesterol levels.
- Be more physically active! While you don’t need to run any marathons, going for walks or even doing daily household chores can help keep your cholesterol down.
- Choose healthier fats—and foods in general. If you find that your diet consists of a lot of junk, it may be time to make a change. Saturated fats are hard on your heart, so be sure to eat things like butter, cheese, and red meat in moderation.
- Take your medication. If you’re concerned that a medication you’re taking may affect your cholesterol (or is having negative side effects in general), talk to your doctor.
For more information on cholesterol and how it affects you, check out the CDC’s cholesterol section. If you have questions or concerns about your or your loved one’s levels, talk to your doctor or your LifeSource Home Health care team, who can also help you manage your cholesterol levels and medications. Contact us today to find out more!