Heart attacks and strokes are the No. 1 and No. 4 killers in the United States. One important indicator of your heart health is your cholesterol count. Often the average person is unclear about exactly what these number mean, or how to read the results of the test. They can be confusing for anyone not in the medical field. The American Heart Association website breaks it down in an easy to understand manner.
HDL vs LDL
First a bit about good and bad cholesterol and how triglycerides play a part in the cholesterol count. Lipoproteins carry cholesterol through your bloodstream. Low density lipoproteins (LDL) are unhealthy, what is referred to as bad cholesterol. They build up on the walls of your arteries and along with other particles create plaque. This plaque continues to gather and narrows the path through your arteries making it hard or even impossible for blood to reach vital organs, which can create blood clots creating the possibility of stroke. This creates more work for your heart causing a heart attack. Evidence indicates that high density lipoproteins (HDL) prevents build up in the arteries and helps move the cholesterol through your body and to the liver for elimination. HDL is considered to be good cholesterol. Triglycerides are a fat made in your body. Obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking cigarettes, excessive alcohol and consumption of a high carbohydrate diet contribute to an abundance of this fat in your body. High triglycerides count is a risk factor directly related to lifestyle.
Understanding the results
A cholesterol test is a blood test usually done in the morning on an empty stomach. It is a fasting test, results can be adversely affected if you have eaten beforehand. Test result are reported in milligrams per deciliter of blood, mg/dL. The test results can be confusing if you are not sure what results are desirable. Healthy results are less than 200 mg/dL. Your levels are considered borderline high if between 200 to 239 mg/dL. If your levels are 240 mg/dL and above you are at more than a two times higher risk of developing heart disease. These results are determined by HDL + LDL + 20% triglycerides level. Doctors determine your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and/or stroke using this test and other health tests, such as blood pressure tests, as well as lifestyle, for example activity level, for an overall risk evaluation.
Lowering your high cholesterol count
There are several things you can do to decrease your risk of high cholesterol levels. First, you need to have the test done to evaluate where your levels are. Then based on those results adjust your daily diet. Educate yourself on good and bad cholesterol and what foods in your diet are one or the other. Determine which habits, such as smoking and/or excessive alcohol you would like to cut down or quit entirely. Many communities have classes at the local health department to help with quitting. Also determine what exercises to implement to get your activity level where it needs to be. Walking is a great place to start if you are starting right off the couch. If your activity level needs a push try interval walking/jogging to increase the intensity level. Together all of these adjustments can help lower your overall cholesterol levels.
Note: I am not a health professional. Please contact your health professional for a blood test to determine your cholesterol levels. These tests should begin at 20 years of age and then as often as your doctor indicates. Understanding your results and what you can do to lower your risk of heart attack and/or stroke is the first step to taking control of your health and well being.
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