It’s Important To Monitor Your Cholesterol Levels To Reduce Your Risk Of A Heart Attack Or Stroke
Cholesterol is a subject that comes up often when people talk about health. You may be wondering if it’s something you or your senior loved one should be concerned about. Pegasus home healthcare specialists in Valencia and elsewhere explain why monitoring cholesterol levels is so important.
Your body requires cholesterol to function. It’s part of every cell. It helps your body to:
- Digest food
- Generate vitamin D
- Maintain cell structure
- Make hormones
Because your body must have cholesterol, your liver produces it in the needed amounts. Many of the foods you consume include cholesterol. Diet is the primary cause of high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance. It combines with specific proteins into particles called lipoproteins. Your blood transports lipoproteins throughout your body.
Lipoproteins are classified as follows:
- Low-density, or LDL. This is the so-called “bad” cholesterol. LDL transports the cholesterol to where it’s needed.
- High-density, or HDL. This is commonly regarded as “good” cholesterol. HDL picks up excess amounts of cholesterol and transports it back to your liver. Your body then tries to eliminate the excess.
- Very low-density, or VLDL. VLDL differs from LDL because it carries triglycerides rather than cholesterol. VLDL is also considered “bad.”
Sometimes excess amounts of cholesterol and triglycerides are more than your liver can remove. The excesses can combine with other substances and accumulate on the interior walls of your arteries. The accumulations eventually harden into plaques.
High Cholesterol Levels Harm Your Arteries
The plaques restrict the flow of blood through your arteries, resulting in a condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis, also called “hardening of the arteries,” can lead to:
- Heart attacks
- Peripheral arterial disease
Strokes also occur when a piece of a plaque breaks off and travels through the bloodstream to the brain.
A fasting blood test measures the amounts of each lipoprotein in your bloodstream. The measurements are expressed as a total of milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood.
Healthcare providers generally consider desirable levels of total cholesterol to be 200 mg/dL or less. Levels between 200 and 240 are borderline. Levels higher than 240 are regarded as high and need to be reduced, usually by modifying your diet.
Many physicians evaluate the LDL and HDL levels separately to determine if your cholesterol levels are high. What they regard as okay or high is influenced by other health conditions you may have.
Acceptable Levels Of Cholesterol Can Vary
For example, if you have heart disease, your LDL should be no higher than 70. If you don’t have heart disease, physicians are satisfied with an LDL level between 100 and 129. LDL levels of 160 and higher are cause for alarm in nearly all cases.
HDL levels below 50 for women and below 40 for men are classified as poor. Levels of 60 or more are regarded as best for both sexes. Levels for triglycerides range from desirable (below 150) to very high (500 and above).
Some doctors subtract the HDL number from the total number. This tells them how much “bad” cholesterol is circulating in your body. Others divide the total by the HDL number to obtain a ratio that reflects your risk of heart disease.
If you decide to use a home-testing kit, purchase one that is CDC-certified. Most measure only the total cholesterol level, although a few measure HDL and triglycerides. Accuracy can vary, but they are an option for monitoring your levels if COVID-19 keeps you away from a lab.
How often you or your loved one should have a cholesterol test depends on several factors. As you mature, your doctor will likely order a test at least once every five years. As a senior, especially if you have any risk factors, testing may be ordered once a year.
Poor Lifestyle Habits Are A Major Risk Factor
Individuals with high cholesterol levels rarely have symptoms. Millions of Americans are at risk for serious health conditions due to high levels. Without regular testing, they don’t know they have a problem until it leaves them debilitated.
Rarely, individuals can inherit genes that cause high LDL levels when they’re young. Aging and race are two other factors in the risk of developing high cholesterol that are beyond your control. African-Americans often have higher levels than whites.
Certain medical conditions can increase your risk of high cholesterol. These include:
- Liver or kidney disease
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Underactive thyroid
Some medications can also increase your levels.
The biggest risk factors are lifestyle habits. These include poor eating practices, lack of exercise, and smoking. Obesity also leads to high levels.
Treatment involves improving your lifestyle habits, as well as the appropriate treatment for other medical conditions. Medications are available that lower high cholesterol. Those do not replace a healthy diet, exercise, and smoking cessation.
Pegasus is a licensed Home Care Organization and a Joint Commission Accredited Home Health Care organization. Pegasus home healthcare professionals in Valencia and our other locations include dietitians and physical therapists. We strive to help you maximize your quality of life in the comfort and safety of your home.