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Cholesterol is necessary for your body to work properly, and your body actually makes all the cholesterol you need. Too much cholesterol can accumulate depending on the kind of foods you eat and the rate at which your body breaks it down.

Extra cholesterol can build up in your arteries. Over time, cholesterol deposits, called plaque, can narrow your arteries and allow less blood to pass through.

When plaque totally blocks an artery carrying blood to the heart, a heart attack occurs. It also can happen when a deposit ruptures and causes a clot in a coronary artery. Chest pain, also called angina, is caused by plaque blocking a coronary artery, reducing blood flow to the heart.

“Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol

Particles called lipoproteins carry cholesterol in the blood. There are two kinds of lipoproteins you need to know about: LDL and HDL.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol makes up the majority of the body’s cholesterol. LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol because having high levels can lead to a build-up in the arteries and result in heart disease.

High-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver, which flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

High cholesterol usually has no signs or symptoms. Only a doctor’s check will reveal it.

A simple blood test can check your cholesterol levels. The test is called a lipoprotein profile. It measures several kinds of cholesterol as well as triglycerides. Triglycerides are considered to be a type of bad cholesterol that should be treated in patients with diabetes.

The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that healthy adults get their cholesterol levels checked every five years.

Total cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL
LDL (“bad” cholesterol) Less than 100 mg/dL
HDL (“good” cholesterol) 40 mg/dL or higher
Triglycerides Less than 150 mg/dL

Lowering Your Cholesterol Levels

You can take several steps to maintain a normal cholesterol level:

  • Get a blood test.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Treat high cholesterol.

If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medications in addition to lifestyle changes. The levels of HDL, LDL and triglycerides depend on the individual. Ultimately, it is up to your physician to determine the most appropriate levels for these measurements. Talk with your doctor about how to reduce your risk for heart disease.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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