Getting regular physical examinations is just one way to stay healthy and catch potential health problems before they become serious. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, or you have other risk factors for heart disease, your primary care provider may recommend that you have a lipid panel done yearly. This blood test determines your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, so it is an important part of your annual checkup and will help you understand how to lower cholesterol.
What is Cholesterol?
Your body uses cholesterol to make hormones and other chemicals. You need cholesterol to survive, but it is possible to have too much of it circulating in your body. The lipid panel tells your doctor how much “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol you have in your blood. The good cholesterol, called high-density lipoprotein, provides protection from heart disease. Low-density lipoprotein, the bad cholesterol, increases your risk for heart disease and other serious medical problems. The lipid panel also tells your doctor your total cholesterol level and your triglyceride level. Your body uses triglycerides, or fatty substances, to produce energy. High levels of triglycerides in the blood, however, increase your risk of heart disease.
Normal Cholesterol Levels & How to Lower Cholesterol
You should aim for a total cholesterol level below 200 mg/dL. Your target LDL level depends on your risk for heart disease. Because HDL has a protective effect, higher levels are better than lower levels. An HDL level below 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women is considered poor. An optimal HDL level is above 60 mg/dL. Determine how to lower cholesterol to keep your triglyceride level below 150 mg/dL.
Cholesterol and Disease
When you have too much cholesterol in your bloodstream, it can stick to the walls of your arteries. This makes it difficult for blood to travel throughout your body and increases the risk of heart attack. If cholesterol deposits develop into a substance called plaque, you can develop atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. This increases your risk for heart disease.
When cholesterol builds up in the blood vessels supplying the brain with oxygen, you also have an increased risk of stroke. If the brain cannot get the blood it needs, the brain cells begin to die. High cholesterol also increases your risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and peripheral vascular disease, which occurs when fatty deposits reduce circulation to the blood vessels surrounding the heart and brain.
Reducing Your Risk
If you have high cholesterol, finding out how to lower cholesterol through lifestyle changes will reduce your risk of disease. Regular physical activity helps reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood, so try taking a daily walk or participating in a dance class in your community. Reducing your consumption of saturated fat and eating more fiber, fish and nuts can help you reduce your cholesterol level naturally. If you smoke, ask your doctor to recommend a smoking cessation method. Smoking reduces your good cholesterol level and increases the risk for chronic diseases. In some cases, medication for high cholesterol is indicated.
Getting regular physical checkups is an important part of taking care of yourself. If you have not had a checkup recently, use our patient portal to request an appointment. When you visit Chapel Hill Primary Care, you will have the opportunity to discuss any concerns with a respectful, compassionate medical professional.