Cholesterol is a substance that is in everyone’s body. It is found in our blood system and there are three types of it.
- LDL (low-density lipoprotein) Cholesterol-which is known as bad cholesterol. The CDC says LDL’s make up most of the cholesterol in our body. When you have high levels of it, your risk of heart disease and stroke rises.
“Bad cholesterol levels are sometimes related to lifestyle, but to a large extent that is controlled by our genetics,” said Salim Virani, M.D., Ph.D, Professor of Cardiology at Baylor College of Medicine.
The American Heart Association says 70% of heart attack and stroke survivors were unaware that LDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as ‘bad cholesterol.’
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein) Cholesterol is known as good cholesterol. The CDC says HDLs work by absorbing cholesterol in the blood and carrying it back to the liver. Once at the liver, it is then flushed from our body. High levels of HDLs can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Triglycerides are a type of fat in your body that is used for energy. The combination of high levels of triglycerides with low HDL and/or high LDL cholesterol levels can increase your risk for health issues.
Cholesterol works by getting into the walls of our arteries. Once there, they begin to form plaques. These plaques are what cause blockages in our bloodstream. If the blockage is in the heart, it can lead to heart attacks. If it is in the brain, it can lead to stroke.
Luckily, Professor Virani says cholesterol is one of the most treatable risk factors.
“The first thing you need to know is what your cholesterol numbers are. Then have that conversation with your clinician, what can you do in terms of diet as well as exercise and if medication is needed,” Virani said.
Professor Virani recommends anyone who is above the age of 20 years old should get their cholesterol checked every four to six years.
“When it comes to prevention, a lot of these risk factors do not cause symptoms. You can have very high cholesterol for a while and nothing will happen for 10 to 12 years and then you can get a major heart attack or stroke and that causes death or disability,” said Virani.
To know what your average cholesterol numbers should look like, click here.