Cardiovascular Disease in Women – Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a soft waxy substance. It comes from two sources: your body and the foods that you eat. The cholesterol that travels in your bloodstream is made by the liver and is called blood cholesterol. The cholesterol that comes from foods you eat is called dietary cholesterol. Your body needs cholesterol to produce hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids, which help absorb fat. The body can make all of the cholesterol it needs. If your blood cholesterol is too high, your arteries can become clogged and slow down and block the flow of blood, which could lead to a heart attack or stroke.

How do you find out if you have unhealthy levels of blood cholesterol?

Unhealthy blood cholesterol levels themselves does not cause symptoms; many people are unaware that their cholesterol level is unhealthy. A person’s cholesterol is measured with a blood test that can be done at a doctor’s office or cholesterol–screening site.

Everyone age 20 and older should have his or her cholesterol measured at least once every five years. It is best to have a blood test called a lipoprotein profile to find out your cholesterol numbers. A lipoprotein profile will give you information on your:

  • Total cholesterol is a measure of all of the cholesterol.
  • LDL cholesterol carries cholesterol to your blood vessels, clogging them like rust in a pipe. This is why
  • LDL cholesterol is called “lousy” cholesterol.
  • HDL cholesterol helps to remove cholesterol from your body. This is why HDL cholesterol is called “healthy” cholesterol. The higher your HDL, the less your risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Triglycerides are another form of fat in the blood and in food.

If it is not possible to get a lipoprotein profile done, knowing your total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol can give you a general idea about your cholesterol levels.

What do the cholesterol numbers mean?

A total cholesterol level of less than 200 of blood is desirable. A level of 240 or above is considered high blood cholesterol and increases risk for cardiovascular disease.

  • Total Cholesterol Level - Category
    • Less than 200 - Desirable
    • 200 to 239 - Borderline high
    • 240 and above - High – elevated risk for cardiovascular disease

HDL (healthy) cholesterol protects against cardiovascular disease. For HDL, higher numbers are better. A level of less than 40 is low and is considered a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. A level of 60 or higher is considered protective.

  • HDL (Healthy) Cholesterol Level - Category
    • 60 or higher - Protective
    • 40 or lower - Elevated risk for cardiovascular disease

LDL (lousy) cholesterol level of 130 or below is desirable. A level of 160 or above is considered high. As with total cholesterol, the higher the number, the higher your risk.

  • LDL (Lousy) Cholesterol Level - Category
    • Less than 130 - Desirable
    • 130 to 159 - Borderline high
    • 160 or more - High – elevated risk for cardiovascular disease

High triglycerides levels can also raise risk for cardiovascular disease. A triglyceride level of 150 or more may need treatment in some people.

What can be done about unhealthy blood cholesterol?

A variety of factors affect a person’s blood cholesterol level. Some of these things you cannot change, such as increasing age, whether you are a man or a woman, or having family members with high blood cholesterol. However, you can change the types of food you eat, the amount of physical activity that you do, and your weight. You can help prevent or lower high blood cholesterol by eating a heart healthy diet, being active every day, and maintaining a healthy weight.

In addition, your doctor may prescribe medication for you to take. If you have questions about why and how to take you medication, make sure that you have all of your questions answered before you leave the doctor’s office. It may be helpful to ask your doctor to write down all of the information that you need to know.

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