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Why Cholesterol Screening is Important

September 1, 2012

The importance of cholesterol screening hit home with me recently as a member of my family suffered a heart attack. I learned that you can reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke by managing your cholesterol levels in several ways.

Know Your Cholesterol Level

It is easy to find out what your cholesterol level is by having a simple blood test done at your doctor's office or lab. Your cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). There are three important components of determining your cholesterol level.

  • Your Total Blood (or Serum) Cholesterol Level - this is the one that most people are familiar with and know that the you want to aim for less than 200 mg/dL as a score. Other high risk factors, however, can dictate that you want to aim for an even lower level.
  • Your (HDL) Good Cholesterol Level - on this measure, you want a higher score. Lower HDL levels (less than 40 mg/DL for men and 50 mg/DL for women) put you at a higher risk for heart disease.
  • Your (LDL) Bad Cholesterol Level - quite simply, the lower your level, the lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. According to the American Heart Association, your LDL level is a better indicator of risk than your complete blood cholesterol level. Optimal level is less than 100 mg/DL.

Know Your Triglyceride Level

Triglyceride is a form of fat and is associated with your cholesterol levels. People with high triglyceride levels often have high total cholesteral level, high LDL, and low HDL. Normal triglyceride level will be less than 150 mg/DL.

What's Next?

Once you have the results from your blood test, your doctor can advise you what you need to do to reduce your risk or maintain a lower risk for heart attack or stroke.

It might be necessary for you to control your cholesterol levels by taking prescription medication. Cholesterol lowering drugs usually fall into the following categories: Statins, selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors, Resins, or Fibrates. These drugs, alone or in combination, act in different ways to maintain a healthy cholesterol level and your physician can determine which is best for you if it is needed.

Another drug and dietary supplement that affects your cholesterol level is Niacin. Niacin works to raise your HDL (good) levels. Ask your doctor whether you need a prescription or can take Niacin in a dietary supplement.

Beyond Medication

There are ways that you can help control your cholesterol levels that do not involve medication. You can reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke by changing your lifestyle.

This will involve:

  • Avoid Tobacco Smoke - if you smoke, quit if you can. Smoking affects your cholesterol by lowering your HDL levels. If you don't smoke, you should try to avoid secondhand smoke as exposure to tobacco smoke also lowers your HDL levels.
  • Control Your Weight - being overweight or obese increases the amount of work your heart has to do and raises LDL and triglyceride levels and lowers HDL levels.
  • Change Your Diet - eat a heart-healthy diet full of vegetable, fruits, whole grains, high-fiber foods, and lean meats and poultry and fish.
  • Increase Your Exercise - regular physical activity affects blood cholesterol level by increasing your HDL. Just 30 minutes of exercise on more days than not, will help control your cholesterol, lose weight, and help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure.

American Heart Month

A Congressional act since 1963 requires the President to proclaim February as American Heart Month every year. There are activities designed to raise awareness of heart disease and money for research. To find out about the activities in your area, check with the American Heart Association.

The importance of cholesterol screening is just the beginning of your quest for a healthier lifestyle. Find your scores and get ahead in the game of life.

Source: American Heart Association http://www.americanheart.org

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