Guide to controlling high cholesterol

Whether you are trying to prevent a second cardiac event or avoid heart problems altogether, lipids and cholesterol levels play a vital role in your heart health since high levels can clog arteries and prevent blood flow to or from the heart.

Your cholesterol is considered high if the total is above 240 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Cholesterol levels are considered borderline if it is between 200 and 239 mg/dL.

There are no symptoms associated with high cholesterol so many people are unaware their levels are high, which is why testing is recommended. A simple blood test can quickly let you and your doctor know what your numbers are. If everything looks good and you do not have any other heart attack risk factors, testing every five years is usually recommended. If the test results come back in the high or borderline range or you have other risk factors for heart disease, you will need more frequent tests. Your physician will let you know how often your levels should be checked.

The terms “good” and “bad” cholesterol are also confusing.

Low-density lipoprotein or LDL is referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. (An easy way to remember: “L” and that it stands for “lousy.”) When LDL levels rise, your chances of having a heart attack increases since LDL forms plaque inside your arteries. The plaque can then form a clot, blocking the flow of blood into the heart. High-density lipoprotein or HDL is referred to as the “good” cholesterol. High HDL levels can reduce your risk of heart disease.

For patients with high LDL levels, lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Increasing exercise, quitting smoking and eating a diet low in saturated fats and simple carbs while adding in more fiber and nuts can all help lower your LDL levels. If lifestyle changes do not help, medication will be prescribed to lower the LDL levels. Data shows lower LDL levels can help prevent a second cardiac event.

It is important to know your cholesterol numbers and understand if they are considered high, borderline or normal. That is vital information – along with blood pressure, weight and whether or not you smoke or have diabetes – in helping your medical provider determine your risk of having a heart attack.

Dr. Glenn Huth specializes in vascular medicine at ThedaCare Cardiovascular Care in Appleton.

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