Cholesterol is a fatty substance, also called a lipid, that's produced by the liver. It's also found in foods high in , like fatty meats, egg yolks, shellfish, and whole-milk dairy products. It’s a vital part of the structure and functioning of our cells. However, high levels of cholesterol in your blood may lead to the slow in the over time, a serious progressive disease called .
A Closer Look
So how can something your body needs be harmful? Well, not all cholesterol is considered bad. There are three main components doctors evaluate when you have a blood test to check your cholesterol levels. They look at , , and another substance called . Having the right levels of each is healthy.
But, the fact is that cholesterol can be harmful to your health when there’s too much of it in your blood. Whether you have high cholesterol may depend on your lifestyle. Eating a lot of fats and not getting enough exercise can cause cholesterol levels to rise. Cholesterol is also, in part, a result of your genetic makeup.
Everyone with high cholesterol needs to keep it under control, but it may be even more important for some groups of people, who have additional risk factors. Additional risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- Family history of early heart disease
If you fall into any of the groups above, you may be at increased risk for plaque buildup in your arteries. As plaque gradually builds, it can cause arteries to narrow. So your doctor may want you to get your cholesterol levels lower compared to someone who has high cholesterol alone. It's important to discuss all your risk factors when considering your cholesterol-management plan.
What’s Your Cholesterol Goal?
Managing high cholesterol may be different for you, depending on your medical history and your health. Your doctor will look at the results of your cholesterol test, also known as a , and, using this information along with your medical background, establish a cholesterol goal for you. Always ask what your cholesterol numbers mean, based on your complete health history, so you can work together with your doctor to manage your cholesterol levels.
National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) guidelines recommend that all adults over age 20 have a cholesterol test at least once every 5 years. Take a look at the guidelines below to get a better idea of where your cholesterol levels should be.
- Near optimal/above optimal
Source: National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP)
Depending on your overall health profile, your doctor may recommend that you have your cholesterol levels followed more closely.
It’s important to manage your cholesterol and reach your goals, because if you don’t, your high cholesterol may contribute to plaque buildup in your arteries.
Learn more about plaque buildup