Fast facts about cholesterol

By Michaella Quallen

Fact is, high cholesterol usually has no signs or symptoms. You may not know you have unhealthy cholesterol levels until it is too late — when you have a heart attack or stroke.

About 38 percent of American adults have high cholesterol.

Too much cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the United States.

Some types of cholesterol are important for good health. Your body needs cholesterol to perform important jobs, such as making hormones.

LDL “bad” cholesterol makes up most of your body’s cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease and stroke.

HDL “good” cholesterol carries cholesterol back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.

When your body has too much LDL cholesterol, it can build up in the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called plaque.

As your blood vessels build up plaque over time, the insides of the vessels narrow. This narrowing can eventually block blood flow to and from your heart and other organs.

When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can cause chest pain or a heart attack.

Certain health conditions, your lifestyle, and your family history can raise your risk for high cholesterol. These are called “risk factors.”

We know that foods with a lot of cholesterol can contain higher levels of saturated fats. Saturated fats can make your cholesterol numbers higher, so it is best to choose foods that are lower in saturated fats.

Foods made from animals such as red meat, seafood, eggs, butter, cheeses and dairy products are higher in saturated fats. Smoking damages your blood vessels, speeds up the hardening of the arteries and increases your risk for heart disease. If you do not smoke, do not start.

If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease.

Knowing your family history can be helpful, if your parents or other immediate family members have high cholesterol you could have it too.

Everyone’s risk for high cholesterol goes up with age. This is because as we age our bodies can’t clear cholesterol from the blood as well as it could when we were younger.

Fact is, you can’t control some risk factors such as your age or family history.

You can take steps to lower your risk for high cholesterol by changing things you can control.

Make healthy food choices and be active every day. Avoid smoking or using tobacco products. Know your family history and talk with your health care provider about ways to manage your cholesterol.

Most importantly, commit to getting your cholesterol checked this year so you know your numbers and your risk for heart disease and stroke.

High cholesterol has no signs or symptoms, so the only way to know is to get your cholesterol checked.


Michaella Quallen is with the Clinton County Health District.

By Michaella Quallen