Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood. You need cholesterol to be healthy, but too much can build up in your arteries and can cause a heart attack or stroke.
That’s why it’s important to know your total cholesterol (determined with a blood test), which includes:
- HDL (“good” cholesterol)
- LDL (“bad” cholesterol)
Although there are some risk factors for high cholesterol that you can’t control — such as a family history of early heart disease, age (men, 45 years or older, and women, 55 years or older) and African American race — there are risk factors you can change, including:
- Smoking – If you smoke, quit. We can help.
- High blood pressure – Take steps to manage your blood pressure.
- Diabetes or high blood sugar – Talk to you doctor about how to manage your blood sugar.
- High LDL and/or low HDL cholesterol – You can maintain healthy cholesterol levels through heart-healthy eating and exercise alone or combined with medications. Your doctor can help design a program that’s right for you.
Eating a nutritious diet, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking lower your risk for heart attack and stroke — and they can improve your health overall.
Your doctor may recommend cholesterol-lowering medicine (the most common are statins) if you’re at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke, such as if:
- You’ve had a heart attack, stroke, angioplasty, stent placement or heart bypass surgery to unblock arteries.
- Your LDL (bad) cholesterol is 190 or higher.
- You’re between 40 and 75 years old and you have diabetes and a high level of LDL cholesterol.
In some instances, medicine may be appropriate for you even if you don’t meet the criteria above.
What You Should Know About Statins
- Many large research studies have shown that statins can significantly lower heart attack and stroke risk.
- Statins are very safe — only a very small number of people who take them have side effects.
- For those who’ve had problems with statins or aren’t able to take them, there are other types of medicines that can be used.
Talk to your doctor to find out if cholesterol-lowering medicine is right for you. If your doctor prescribes medicine, he or she may order blood tests after four to six weeks to make sure the medicines are working and are safe for you.