Knowing your cholesterol level can be an important factor in your overall health

Checking your cholesterol may not be low on your top 10 to-do list — but knowing your numbers can be crucial to overall health, no matter what your age.

People in their 20s may never care about their cholesterol levels, but they should because they may have a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol that they may not be aware of. The sooner you are treated, the more damage you can prevent.

Dr. Michael Farbaniek, cardiologist, Penn State Health Milton S

In fact, the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute recommends an initial screening between ages 9 and 11 and every five years thereafter.

People over the age of 40 should get a lipid panel every year and ask to have it added to annual blood work if their primary care doctor doesn’t order it — because it’s easily overlooked in anticipation of many other issues, Farbaniek said. .

What is a healthy cholesterol level?

Cholesterol, a waxy substance made in the liver and found in the blood and in all cells of the body, is needed to build cell walls, create hormones, serve as a protective barrier for cells, and more. Cholesterol is transported in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), commonly known as “bad cholesterol,” and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good cholesterol,” to provide energy to muscles and cells.

In addition to total cholesterol, the lipid panel measures these lipoproteins as well as triglycerides, fatty acids in the blood that our bodies use for energy. Affected directly by exercise and diet, high triglycerides combined with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol increase the risk of plaque accumulation. Fatty liver diseaseHeart attack and stroke.

While most people can quote their total cholesterol number and are happy if it’s within the recommended 200 mg/dL, the most important value to know is non-HDL. This number is arrived at by subtracting your HDL from your total cholesterol.

“We changed our thinking from that general value because we knew we underestimated people’s risk and they were dying of heart disease,” Farbaniek said. “If your total cholesterol is under 200, but your HDL is 25 and your LDL is 170, that’s not good.”

Hold for the risk, not for the numbers

Ideally, non-HDL cholesterol should be less than 130 mg/dL for people without risk factors. For people with high heart disease due to family or personal cardiovascular disease, other health problems or familial hypercholesterolemia – inherited high cholesterol that is not affected by changes in diet or exercise – LDL values ​​should be lower. 70 mg/dL, Farbaniec said. Triglyceride values ​​should be less than 150 mg/dL. A value of more than 200 is considered high.

That is, instead of relying on numbers, it is important to consider the risk factors of cardiovascular diseases on an individual level.

“I had a patient with normal cholesterol, but she had a family history of heart disease at a young age and was very stressed,” Farbaniek said. “I did an arterial calcium scan, and it showed a lot of calcified plaque build-up. That number is good, but she said she’s at risk, but we can do something now to prevent more plaque build-up.”

Other risk factors for high cholesterol include high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, premature heart disease, coronary artery disease and familial hypercholesterolemia, he said. Some medicines can raise the level.

The American College of Cardiology offers a risk calculator where users can enter factors such as age, cholesterol levels, and other factors to estimate their risk of atherosclerotic heart disease.

Take the first step

Doing a lipid panel is not difficult. All that is required is a laboratory prescription.

Currently, most doctors do not require fasting for routine testing because non-HDL cholesterol levels do not change with fasting. Some patients, especially those on medication, may still wonder how long to fast for a lipid panel, and the answer is about 10 hours, Farbaniek said.

Statins, prescription drugs used to lower cholesterol, are the main treatment for high cholesterol, but there are many other options, Farbanyk said.

“The most important thing is to do a lipid panel,” he said. “No one can feel if they have high cholesterol, but the test results will help us prevent bad health in the future.”

Studies show that statins can reduce or stabilize plaque accumulation, providing another reason why monitoring cholesterol levels is important for overall health.

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