Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance that is essential for many basic functions of the human body. But too much cholesterol can lead to heart attacks and strokes. The good news is that cholesterol levels can be easily controlled by lifestyle habits, diet and medication.
High blood cholesterol is dangerous because it leads to a buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. Clogged arteries can put a severe strain on the heart and sometimes cause heart attacks or strokes. The only way to prevent clogged arteries from getting worse is to lower the cholesterol in the blood as soon as possible.
The first step in controlling cholesterol is to get a blood test that measures the amount of cholesterol in a person’s blood. Healthcare providers agree that a cholesterol level of 200 or less is a desirable level for most adults.
If cholesterol levels are higher than 200, it’s essential to:
- cut down on fats and cholesterol in the diet;
- add more whole grains, starches, vegetables and fruits;
- and start a regular program of aerobic exercise.
Various types of medication are also available to treat high cholesterol, but medication is usually recommended only in cases where other methods haven’t reduced blood cholesterol to acceptable levels.
If you are over age 40 and have never had a cholesterol test, see your healthcare provider and get started on a regular schedule of medical screenings. If you know that your cholesterol levels are high, don’t wait for heart problems to develop. Ask your healthcare provider to help you plan a program of diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes to get your cholesterol under control.
In a cholesterol test, a small sample of blood is taken for analysis. Results are usually presented as a number for total cholesterol. Most experts agree that a total cholesterol level of less than 200 is desirable. A level of 200-239 is sometimes called “Borderline High” – meaning you are at increased risk for heart disease. If your cholesterol level is 240 or more, you are considered to be at high risk for heart disease.