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Medical News Today says that heart disease is the leading cause of death not only in the U.S., but throughout the world. While you cannot change your genes, there are other ways you can lower your risk for this problem. One way is by checking your cholesterol levels.
During a physical, your primary care physician can test your cholesterol and help you make healthy changes. Read on to learn more about what cholesterol is, why too much is hazardous, and how you can lower your levels.
What is Cholesterol Exactly?
The word "cholesterol" has a bad connotation; however, not all cholesterol is bad. Your liver actually produces a good percentage of cholesterol since it is a vital compound that helps make hormones and new cells. There is "good" cholesterol, called HDL, which filters fats back to the liver. There's also "bad" cholesterol, called LDL, which causes fatty buildups in the body.
If the Body Produces Cholesterol, Why is Too Much Hazardous?
While some cholesterol is necessary, many people have elevated levels due to their poor diet. Even though most of your cholesterol is naturally created by your body, you can also get it from foods like dairy and meat. Foods that contain lots of sugar or fat can cause your body to produce more cholesterol in the bloodstream as well.
When too much bad cholesterol (LDL) collects in the bloodstream, it can start to stick to the walls of your arteries. This makes it harder for your blood to circulate, thus causing inflammation and the risk of blood clots. While people with bad cholesterol may not have any symptoms, you could experience jaw pain, high blood pressure, gallstones, chest pain, poor circulation, and numbness in the legs.
People with high LDL levels have a higher risk of life-threatening conditions, like heart disease, atherosclerosis, and strokes.
How Can You Lower Your LDL Levels?
If you aren't sure where your LDL levels stand, you should make an appointment with your primary care physician. He or she can run a run a lipid panel, which will show you the ratio of HDL and LDL cholesterol. If you have elevated levels of LDL, then your doctor may recommend a change in diet or exercise. You may need to start reading nutritional labels and watching out for high levels of sugar and fat when you prepare meals.
People with sedentary lifestyles or people who are overweight tend to have higher levels of bad cholesterol and lower levels of good cholesterol. So your doctor can help you develop an exercise plan to shed any excess weight. Even starting an easy walking program could help you lower your cholesterol.
Some conditions, like diabetes, are linked to higher levels of bad cholesterol, so you and your doctor should work together to figure out how to manage symptoms. For example, your physician may recommend taking medications along with a change in diet. There are some drugs which can lower triglycerides, or blood fats, while also raising good HDL cholesterol.
Although bad cholesterol may seem to be a condition that one only has to worry about as a senior, one study found that lasting damage from bad cholesterol can start in early adulthood. Participants in the study who had moderately elevated levels were more likely to develop atherosclerosis and coronary artery calcium.
As you can see, if you've never had your cholesterol levels tested, it's a good idea to get it done. You shouldn't have to see a specialist for a test—a primary care physician can either draw blood in their facility or send you to the appropriate blood draw site.
You may have to fast for some time before your test, but it's best to ask your doctor beforehand. Keep in mind that eating high-fat meals and or drinking alcohol before your test can make your results inaccurate. Talk with your primary care physician for more information and instructions.