Your cholesterol plays a very important role in your health. While there is both good and bad cholesterol, it is very important to get a cholesterol screening checked occasionally in order to make sure your cholesterol levels are in a good balance. High levels of certain types of cholesterol can contribute to some very serious health conditions and dramatically increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and arterial diseases.
To begin, let’s take a look at what cholesterol is and the role it plays in the body:
What Is Cholesterol?
While many fear cholesterol because of its relationship to heart disease and clogged arteries, cholesterol is actually a necessary and important substance in the body.
Cholesterol’s main function is to maintain the integrity and fluidity of cell membranes and to serve as a precursor for the synthesis of substances that are essential for the body, including steroid hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D.
Your liver makes the cholesterol you need for these processes. The rest comes from dietary sources, primarily animal fats (poultry, beef, etc) and certain oils like palm. Sometimes, these sources can result in a level of cholesterol that exceeds that needed for biologic processes resulting in circulating levels in the bloodstream that are too high.
As the amount of cholesterol in your blood increases, so does the risk to your health. Cholesterol causes damage when it becomes oxidized, depositing thick plaques on the inside of artery walls. This can be triggered by many things including inflammation in tissues and the blood vessels, poor diet, stress, a reduced immune system, or a lack of sleep. All of this contributes to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The important thing is that there are two main types of cholesterol – HDL and LDL.
HDL (Good) Cholesterol
HDL cholesterol can be thought of as the “good” cholesterol because a healthy level may protect against heart attack and stroke. HDL carries LDL (bad) cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where the LDL is broken down and passed from the body. But HDL cholesterol doesn’t completely eliminate LDL cholesterol. Only one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL.
LDL (Bad) Cholesterol
LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to fatty buildups in arteries (atherosclerosis). This narrows the arteries and increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. They store excess energy from your diet. A high triglyceride level combined with high LDL (bad) cholesterol or low HDL (good) cholesterol is linked with fatty buildups within arterial walls, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
When To Get Your A Cholesterol Screening
Since 1 in 5 adults suffer from high cholesterol levels, it is important to get a cholesterol screening regularly. This is especially true because high cholesterol levels do not cause any noticeable symptoms. A good rule of thumb is to get your cholesterol checked every 3-5 years if you are over 20 years old, and even more often if your doctor determines you are at risk for cardiovascular disease.
If there is a history of heart disease or high cholesterol in your family, this is even more reason to make sure you get checked.
What Are The Risk Factors For High Cholesterol?
Some of the risk factors for high cholesterol include:
Your family history plays a big role in your risk of developing high cholesterol. Experts think this is a genetic trait that can be inherited. It is also thought that high cholesterol may occur because some families share the same unhealthy lifestyle habits. Some people also have a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, which can cause high levels of low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol from a young age.
Diabetics are at a high risk of having bad cholesterol because it raises levels of bad cholesterol. Combined, diabetes and high cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease or stroke.
As you age, the body loses its ability to remove bad cholesterol as effectively as it could when you were younger. This makes paying attention to cholesterol levels as you age very important.
Men tend to have higher LDL and lower HDL cholesterol levels than women. After menopause, however, LDL cholesterol levels in women do tend to increase.
Having A Weight Problem
Obesity and a high BMI are considerably correlated with high levels of LDL cholesterol.
Getting A Cholesterol Screening
Cholesterol tests are very simple. They consist of getting blood drawn and waiting for the lab results to determine your different cholesterol levels. Before getting your test, be sure not to eat for at least 12 hours prior to the blood draw. The lab will check all of the main forms of your cholesterol levels, including HDL, LDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol.
Imperial Center Family Medicine. offers primary and preventative services to help manage your ongoing health and wellness needs. Their team takes pride in their quality of care and the personal attention they provide. To schedule your cholesterol screening or to learn more about high cholesterol, contact Imperial Center Family Medicine today.