By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
If you have high cholesterol, you are at risk for heart disease. The effects of high cholesterol tend to develop over the course of many years and cause a condition called atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is a hardening and narrowing of the arteries. Over time, plaque develop and silently and slowly block arteries, putting blood flow at risk. It’s the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes and peripheral vascular disease. Common effects of high cholesterol because of atherosclerosis include angina, coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
It is important to know your numbers. Even thin, active people can have elevated cholesterol and not be aware. Our cholesterol levels are regulated by diet, exercise and genetics. Some families have a strong genetic predisposition to high cholesterol, and while diet and exercise may help lower levels, some people also might need the help of lipid-lowering medication to further decrease their risk of heart disease.
It is important to know your numbers so you can prevent this development of plaque, which will in turn place you at a higher risk of heart disease. This is a silent progression with no symptoms, so awareness is the first step.
The current recommendations for testing by the American Heart Association are once every 5 years in everyone over age 20 and more often if you are in a high risk category.
What is a high risk category? I am glad you asked!
Here are some factors, according to the American Heart Association, that put you at higher risk:
- Family history of high LDL cholesterol
- High blood pressure or type 2 diabetes
- Being overweight
- Not getting enough physical activity
- Eating too much saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol – and not enough fruits and vegetables
- Taking certain medicines, such as medicines to lower blood pressure
- Eating too much sugar and starch
- Not eating enough fruits, vegetables and unsaturated fat (like olive oil
- Not eating enough fiber
What is normal and when should I be concerned? Below is a chart to explain the current guidelines.
The key to protecting your heart is prevention. Healthy eating and exercise are a start, but knowing your family’s health history and getting tested are important next steps to a healthier you!