September is National Cholesterol Education Month. It is a great time to get your cholesterol levels checked and take steps to correct high levels before they lead to complications. More than 102 million Americans over age 20 currently have high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your body and in many foods. It is necessary for the body to build cells, but too much cholesterol can cause build-up in your arteries, which puts you at higher risk for heart disease and stroke. There are two types of cholesterol: LDL (bad) and HDL (good). The American Heart Association compares LDL cholesterol to a family member who carries items around the house and drops things along the way, while HDL is the one who comes along, picks those things up, and puts them away. When these cholesterol “pieces” are left to build up in the arteries they can form clots, or blocks, in the blood flow, resulting in heart attack or stroke.
High cholesterol does not always have any symptoms, which means many people may not know they have it. Simple blood tests can be performed by your physician or through different biometric screening programs which can tell you your cholesterol levels. A blood cholesterol level higher than 200mg/dL is considered to be high. A level over 240 mg/dL means you may be at very high risk for heart disease.
The good news: it is in your power to change your cholesterol levels. There are some genetic connections which may put you at higher risk for developing high cholesterol, but the main causes for high LDL cholesterol are unhealthy eating habits, inactive lifestyle, and smoking. By eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and quitting smoking, you can drastically reduce your risk for developing heart disease.
If you have questions about your cholesterol levels, talk with your doctor to create a plan that is right for you. Employers can also consult with their health insurance carriers to find out more about screening programs that may be available at their worksites.
John E. Aoki, M.D., CHCQM, FABQAURP
Chief Medical Officer
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