Frequently asked questions on important topics

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High Cholesterol

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally in all parts of the body and is made by the liver. Cholesterol also is present in foods we eat. People need cholesterol for the body to function normally. Cholesterol is present in the cell walls or membranes everywhere in the body, including the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines, and heart.

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Why Should I Be Concerned About Cholesterol?

Too much cholesterol in your body means that you have an increased risk of getting cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease. If you have too much cholesterol in your body, the cholesterol can build up on the walls of the arteries that carry blood to your heart. This buildup, which occurs over time, causes less blood and oxygen to get to your heart. This can cause chest pain and heart attacks.

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What’s the Difference between “Good” and “Bad” Cholesterol?

HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as good cholesterol. HDL takes the bad cholesterol out of your blood and keeps it from building up in your arteries. LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as bad cholesterol because it can build up on the walls of your arteries and increase your chances of getting cardiovascular disease. When being tested for high cholesterol, you want a high HDL number and a low LDL number.

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What Makes My Cholesterol Levels Go Up?

Eating foods such as meats, whole milk dairy products, egg yolks, and some kinds of fish can make your cholesterol levels go up. Being overweight can make your bad cholesterol go up and your good cholesterol go down. Also, after women go through menopause, their bad cholesterol levels tend to go up.

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What Can I Do To Lower My Cholesterol Levels?

You can lower your cholesterol levels by making changes to your lifestyle. Here are some tips.

  • Eat foods with less fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Take off the skin and fat from meat, poultry and fish.
  • Broil, bake, roast, or poach instead of frying foods.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables everyday.
  • Eat lots of cereals, breads, rice, and pasta made from whole grains, such as whole wheat bread or spaghetti.
  • Get lots of exercise everyday. Talk to your doctor about what are the safest and best ways for you to exercise.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Take your high blood cholesterol medication as prescribed by your doctor.

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At What Age Should People Begin Having Their Cholesterol Checked?

It is important to have your cholesterol level checked when you are young, since clogging of the arteries (atherosclerosis) is a gradual process that takes many years. Total cholesterol should be measured at least every five years starting at age 20.

Note: If you have high cholesterol and your doctor has told you there may be an underlying genetic cause, you may want to have your children, under age 20, get their cholesterol levels tested. Talk to your children’s health care providers about cholesterol testing.

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What are the uncontrollable and controllable risk factors for high cholesterol?

A person can control lifestyle options to maximize their potential to control high cholesterol levels with a healthy diet, exercise, weight control, and avoiding or quitting smoking.

However, there are some situations that are beyond control of the individual. Family history and genetic predisposition to high cholesterol, aging (men older than 45 and women older than 55), and diseases that cause the liver to produce more cholesterol or prevent it from metabolizing cholesterol are risk factors for high cholesterol. These risks can be minimized by living a healthier lifestyle but may require cholesterol-lowering medication.

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How is cholesterol checked?

Cholesterol screening is part of a blood test called a lipoprotein analysis that measures not only total cholesterol in the body but also different types of cholesterol and triglycerides(another type of fat in the body). Total cholesterol is made up two types of cholesterol;

  1. High density lipoproteins (HDL) which may protect the body against narrowing blood vessels and is considered good cholesterol, and
  2. Low density lipoproteins (LDL) is considered bad cholesterol and may make arterial narrowing worse.

The test is done after a 9 to 12 hour fast and your health care practitioner can help interpret the results and decide whether treatment is required.

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What kinds of problems are caused by high cholesterol?

High cholesterol may cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which can lead to narrowed coronary arteries to the heart and chest pain (angina) or heart attack.

Narrowed carotid arteries that supply blood to the brain may cause a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke (CVA).

Narrowed arteries to the legs can cause pain with walking (claudication) which is a symptom of peripheral artery disease.

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