High cholesterol affects more than 102 million Americans and can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke, which are the two leading causes of death in the United states. Charles Presti, MD, PPG – Cardiology and Patrick Daley, MD, PPG – Cardiology, discuss why managing your cholesterol is crucial in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
What are lipids?
Lipids, or more commonly known as cholesterol, are small molecules that circulate in the bloodstream. They are responsible for many functions within the body including energy storage, insulation, cellular communication and protection, but also play a vital role in cardiovascular health. The lipids in your bloodstream are a combination of good cholesterol (HDL), bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides, which is a type of fat found in your blood.
Why is it important to get your cholesterol checked?
Getting your cholesterol levels checked is imperative to staying healthy. Knowing where you stand and what your cholesterol status is can help you stay in control of your overall health. Testing your cholesterol levels will also help your doctor evaluate if you’re at risk for having a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases.
Is high LDL cholesterol dangerous?
Yes! Normally, the body creates all the cholesterol it needs, but we also obtain it through the foods we eat causing an unwanted surplus. “The challenge we face in modern society is that we only need a very small amount of lipid to survive, we are accumulating much more than we need and when we get that in the bloodstream it can accumulate in the blood vessels,” Dr. Daley said.
An excess of LDL cholesterol can be detrimental to your health and open the door to a domino effect of cardiovascular issues including the hardening and narrowing of arteries. Dr. Presti expands further, “atherosclerotic disease means disease of the blood vessels. This is where lipid rich plaque builds up in the walls of blood vessels over many years causing a gradual narrowing of the blood vessels. This can result in reduction in blood flow. If this happens in the blood vessels to your legs you can have symptoms such as leg pain or fatigue when walking. If it happens in blood vessels to the brain it can result in stroke, and if happens in the blood vessels in the heart it can cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or acutely, if one of the cholesterol laden plaques ruptures, or breaks open, it can actually cause a heart attack.”
When should you get your lipids (cholesterol) checked?
The CDC recommends that you get your cholesterol checked once between the ages 9-11, once between ages 17-21 and then every 4-6 years going forward. It’s also important to keep your family history in mind when testing. If there is a history of early heart attack or heart disease, your physician may recommend screening for high cholesterol more often.
Learn more about the Parkview Lipid Clinic.