How cholesterol affects heart disease

Many of you have probably had a cholesterol screening at some point. Maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol is good for your heart and lowers your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

Cholesterol screening comes in the form of a blood test called a lipid profile. This includes total cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) or “the good” cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol or “the bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides. It is important to know your numbers and what they mean:
  • Total cholesterol is the sum of your HDL and LDL cholesterol plus 20 percent of your triglycerides. Ideally, your total cholesterol is below 200 mg/dL.
  • HDL cholesterol levels that are higher are considered “good” for you. HDL levels should be greater than 60 mg/dL.
  • LDL cholesterol levels that are high are “bad” for you. LDL can build up in your arteries and increases your risk of heart disease. LDL levels should be less than 100 mg/dL.
  • Triglycerides are fat carried in our blood from food we ingest, and can vary greatly between people. Triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dL.
If your body gets too much cholesterol, it can be damaging to your arteries over time. Your body’s cells will try to attack the buildup, but those cells leave deposits that grow larger known as plaque. As plaque increases in your arteries, known as atherosclerosis, it can block blood flow causing a narrowing of the arteries. As your cholesterol level increases, so does the plaque that forms – increasing your risk of life threatening events like heart attack or stroke.

If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may recommend changes to reduce your risk:
  1. Eat a heart-healthy diet that limits sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and added sugars. Add fish and foods packed with omega 3 fatty acids.
  2. Exercise to increase “good” cholesterol.
  3. Lose extra weight and control your weight.
  4. Quit smoking and limit your alcohol intake.
  5. Statins are medications prescribed for high cholesterol that can reduce the “bad cholesterol” significantly.

Cholesterol screening is recommended for all men over the age of 35 and all women over the age of 40. If you have an increased risk of coronary heart disease, you may want to discuss screening with your doctor beginning at the age of 20.

To schedule a screening, speak with your primary care provider or find a doctor.