Unless you live in a protective bubble, most of us know that high cholesterol is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease. But, once you get past that fact, how much do you actually know about high cholesterol? For example, do you know what the risk factors are? How it’s prevented? When you should get tested? These are simple questions with equally simple answers but in an informal survey conducted of family and friends, I was surprised to learn that most knew very little about high cholesterol other than the obvious - it is bad for your heart and might lead to a heart attack. Not only did they know little about such a treatable and preventable risk factor for heart disease, but most did not even have a clear picture of the risk factors for developing high cholesterol or how to prevent it from developing. Since knowledge is power, it’s clear that it’s time for a little high cholesterol primer.
What is cholesterol?
Simply put, cholesterol is a waxy substance that’s found in your blood. You need a certain amount of cholesterol to maintain and build healthy cells. However, too much cholesterol causes build-up in your arteries, which blocks or restricts your blood flow leading to atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease (heart disease), strokes, heart attack and possible death.
Are there different forms of cholesterol?
Cholesterol comes in three different forms:
• Low density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol: causes buildup in your arteries leading to restricted blood flow as arteries narrow and hardening
• High density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol: delivers extra cholesterol to the liver
• Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL): contains triglycerides; makes LDL cholesterol bigger and may lead to additional damage and narrowing to blood vessels and arteries.
What do the numbers mean? When should I worry?
Depending on the test conducted, you may receive results for LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels individually, a combined score for your total cholesterol levels only, or both individual and combined cholesterol scores.