Your body needs cholesterol to work well. But cholesterol levels that are too high can harm you.
Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Extra cholesterol in your blood builds up inside the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called plaque, or atherosclerosis. Plaque reduces or stops blood flow. This can cause a heart attack, stroke, or other serious heart or blood vessel disease.
All men should have their blood cholesterol levels tested every 5 years, starting at age 35. All women should do the same, starting at age 45. Many people should have their blood cholesterol levels tested at a younger age, possibly as early as age 20, if they have risk factors for heart disease. Have your cholesterol checked more often (probably every year) if you have:
A blood cholesterol test measures the level of total cholesterol. This includes both HDL ("good") cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
Your LDL level is what doctors watch most closely. You want it to be low. If it gets too high, you will need to treat it.
You may also need medicine to lower your cholesterol.
You want your HDL cholesterol to be high. Exercise can help raise it.
It is important to eat right, keep a healthy weight, and exercise, even if:
These healthy habits may help prevent future heart attacks and other health problems.
Eat foods that are low in fat. These include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Using low-fat toppings, sauces, and dressings will help.
Look at food labels. Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat. Eating too much of this type of fat can lead to heart disease.
Eat foods that are high in fiber. Good fibers to eat are oats, bran, split peas and lentils, beans (such as kidney, black, and navy beans), some cereals, and brown rice.
Learn how to shop for and cook foods that are healthy for your heart. Learn how to read food labels to choose healthy foods. Stay away from fast foods, where healthy choices can be hard to find.
Get plenty of exercise. And talk with your doctor about what kinds of exercises are best for you.
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Stone NJ, Robinson J, Lichtenstein AH, Bairey Merz N, Lloyd-Jones DM, et al. 2013 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Treatment of Blood Cholesterol to Reduce Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Risk in Adults: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2013. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/11/11/01.cir.0000437738.63853.7a.full.pdf. Accessed June 30, 2014.
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. A.D.A.M. Editorial Update: 05/14/2014
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