Cholesterol Levels: What You Need to Know

Cholesterol Levels: What You Need to Know

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Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the fats (lipids) in your blood. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. But if you have too much in your blood, it can stick to the walls of your arteries and form plaque. This buildup of plaque can lead to a narrowing of the arteries, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

There are two main types of cholesterol: LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). LDL is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it can contribute to the buildup of plaque in your arteries. HDL, on the other hand, is often referred to as “good” cholesterol because it helps to remove LDL from your bloodstream.

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A cholesterol test also called a lipid panel or lipid profile is used to measure the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. Your healthcare provider may recommend a cholesterol test if you are at increased risk of heart disease, such as if you smoke, have high blood pressure, or have a family history of heart disease. It is recommended to aim for an LDL cholesterol level of less than 100 mg/dL, and an HDL cholesterol level higher than 40 mg/dL. Triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dL.

 

Ways to lower cholesterol levels include eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking. Some people may also need to take medication to lower their cholesterol levels.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the fats (lipids) in your blood. It is produced by the liver and is also present in certain foods such as meat, eggs, and dairy products. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Cholesterol is also important for the formation of cell membranes and certain nerve fibers.

 

However, having high levels of cholesterol in the blood can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. The buildup of cholesterol in the arterial walls can form plaques, which can narrow or block blood vessels. There are two main types of cholesterol in the blood: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it can contribute to the buildup of plaques in the arterial walls. HDL, on the other hand, is often referred to as “good” cholesterol because it helps to remove LDL from the bloodstream.

How do you measure cholesterol levels?

Cholesterol levels are typically measured through a blood test called a lipid panel or lipid profile. This test measures the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.

 

To prepare for the test, you will likely be asked to fast for 9 to 12 hours before the test. During this time, you should not eat or drink anything other than water. Your healthcare provider will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, typically in the morning. The sample will then be sent to a laboratory for analysis.

 

The lipid panel typically includes the following measurements:

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, often referred to as “good” cholesterol
  • Triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood

 

Your healthcare provider will use the results of the test to determine your overall risk of heart disease and stroke. They will consider not only your cholesterol levels but also other risk factors, such as your age, blood pressure, and family history of heart disease, to develop a treatment plan.

 

It is important to note that lipid profile tests should be done at regular intervals as recommended by healthcare providers and any cholesterol level above the normal range would require further evaluation and management.

What do my cholesterol numbers mean?

The results of your cholesterol test will show the levels of various lipids (fats) in your blood, including total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. Here is an explanation of what each of these numbers means:

  • Total cholesterol: This is the overall amount of cholesterol in your blood. A healthy level of total cholesterol is generally considered to be less than 200 mg/dL.
  • LDL cholesterol: LDL is the “bad” cholesterol, as it can contribute to the buildup of plaque in your arteries. A healthy level of LDL cholesterol is less than 100 mg/dL.
  • HDL cholesterol: HDL is the “good” cholesterol, as it helps to remove LDL from your bloodstream. A healthy level of HDL cholesterol is greater than 60 mg/dL.
  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. High levels of triglycerides can also increase your risk of heart disease. A healthy level of triglycerides is less than 150 mg/dL.

 

It’s worth mentioning that in addition to those numbers, your healthcare provider will also consider other risk factors, such as your age, blood pressure, and family history of heart disease, to give a clearer picture of your overall cardiovascular health. Some people may be at a higher risk of heart disease even if their cholesterol levels are within the “normal” range.

 

If your numbers are not in the healthy range, your healthcare provider will likely recommend lifestyle changes and/or medication to help lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Anyone age 19 or younger:

Cholesterol levels are generally not a concern for children and teenagers aged 19 or younger. However, in some cases, children and teenagers can have high cholesterol levels due to genetic conditions or lifestyle factors such as a diet high in saturated fat.

 

Healthcare providers may recommend a cholesterol test for children and teenagers if they have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, or if they have other risk factors such as obesity.

 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 9-11 and those 17-21 who are at risk for cardiovascular disease or have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as obesity or family history, should have their cholesterol checked every 4-6 years.

 

It’s important to note that healthy lifestyle habits such as eating a well-balanced diet, getting regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight can help to prevent high cholesterol levels in children and teenagers. Encouraging healthy habits early in life can also set a good foundation for lifelong heart health.

Men age 20 or older:

For men aged 20 or older, cholesterol levels can be a concern, as high levels of cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends that all men age 20 or older have their cholesterol levels checked at least once every four to six years.

 

It’s important to note that healthy levels of cholesterol may vary depending on a person’s overall risk of heart disease.

 

For men age 20 or older, the following cholesterol levels are considered healthy:

  • Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol: Less than 130 mg/dL
  • HDL cholesterol: More than 40 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL

 

Men who have an increased risk of heart disease, such as those who smoke, have high blood pressure, or have a family history of heart disease may be advised by their healthcare provider to have their cholesterol levels checked more frequently and to aim for even lower cholesterol levels.

 

As with women, lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking can help to lower cholesterol levels in men. If needed, medication may also be prescribed to help lower cholesterol levels.

 

Women age 20 or older:

For women aged 20 or older, cholesterol levels can also be a concern, as high levels of cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends that all women age 20 or older have their cholesterol levels checked at least once every four to six years.

 

It’s important to note that healthy levels of cholesterol may vary depending on a person’s overall risk of heart disease.

 

For women age 20 or older, the following cholesterol levels are considered healthy:

  • Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol: Less than 130 mg/dL
  • HDL cholesterol: More than 50 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL

 

Women who have an increased risk of heart disease, such as those who smoke, have high blood pressure, or have a family history of heart disease may be advised by their healthcare provider to have their cholesterol levels checked more frequently and to aim for even lower cholesterol levels.

 

As with men, lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking can help to lower cholesterol levels in women. If needed, medication may also be prescribed to help lower cholesterol levels. It is worth mentioning that Menopause can also affect cholesterol levels, which may warrant more frequent checking.

 

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