The higher your blood cholesterol level is, the greater the chance of developing heart disease. The American Heart Association indicates that all adults age 20 and older should have a fasting lipoprotein profile completed that measures total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides once every five years. Heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women in the United States.
A doctor can order a blood test that shows cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood. The doctor then interprets cholesterol levels based on other risk factors such as age, family history, smoking and high blood pressure. LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels need to be determined if total cholesterol is greater than 200 mg/dL or if HDL is less than 40mg/dL. HDL or "good" cholesterol protects the heart against heart disease so HDL levels should be 60 mg/dL or more.
Cholesterol builds up in the walls of arteries and over time causes hardening of the coronary arteries, which can result in a heart attack. Buildup of cholesterol is also referred to as plaque. Over time, plaque causes that narrowing of the arteries and leads to atherosclerosis. Some plaques can rupture and release fat into the bloodstream, which can cause blood to clot. A clot can block the flow of blood causing angina or a heart attack. Lowering cholesterol levels helps to decrease or even eliminate plaque from building up.
High blood cholesterol is a condition that increases the chance of getting a disease. High blood cholesterol alone does not cause symptoms, so many people are unaware that their levels are too high. Lowering cholesterol is important for everyone at any age. Getting blood cholesterol levels checked should be part of an overall plan of medical care.
Although it is important for everyone to be screened for cholesterol levels, it is especially important for those who engage in certain unhealthy habits. A diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol can cause cholesterol levels to go up. Being overweight is another risk factor for heart disease and also tends to increase cholesterol levels. Decreased physical activity is also a risk factor for heart disease. If cholesterol levels are found to be at an unhealthy level as a result of a person's lifestyle, changes in lifestyle can help to keep them in check. For example, regular physical activity can help lower LDL cholesterol and help raise HDL cholesterol.
Cholesterol levels need to be checked and evaluated by a physician so a treatment plan can be initiated. The main goal of cholesterol-lowering treatment is to lower LDL cholesterol levels enough to reduce the risk for heart disease. Treatment includes Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes or TLC plan that includes a low-cholesterol diet, physical activity and weight management as well as drugs prescribed by a physician.