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Are You at Risk for High Cholesterol?

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High cholesterol typically gives no warning sign. However, there are certain factors that will put you at a higher risk. If you fit into any of these categories, it’s important to closely monitor your levels. High risk or not, if you are over the age of 20 it’s recommended that you have your cholesterol levels tested at least once every five years.

Uncontrollable Factors
Family History

According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, if your father developed heart disease before the age of 55 or you sister or mother developed heart disease before 65, then your risk for elevated LDL (“bad cholesterol”) levels is much higher.

High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is considered high when it reaches a level of 140/90 mmHg or above. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the most common problems in the United States. This poses a risk for high cholesterol and heart disease by putting pressure on artery walls making it easier for LDL to get stuck in the arteries.

Women and men have different risk factors throughout their lives. Typically before reaching menopause, women naturally maintain a lower cholesterol level than men in their same age category. The reverse happens for women once they reach the age of 50 as their levels tend to bypass their male peers.

Controllable Factors

If you are overweight, your chance of developing heart disease and high cholesterol will increase. Too much fat in the diet and stored in the body increases LDL. The good news is that if you lose weight, HDL (“good cholesterol”) increases and LDL and total cholesterol levels decrease.

Lack of exercise increases LDL putting you at a higher risk for complications. Exercising for 30 minutes a day is one of the best ways to help keep your mind and body fit and can even begin to lower your cholesterol and even increase your HDL levels.

Smoking makes it easier for LDL to get caught in the arteries. This limits the amount of oxygen rich blood flowing to the heart causing pain, lack of oxygen and eventually may lead to heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

When stress affects the brain, cortisol and adrenaline are released. These “fight or flight” hormones increases blood flow and energy, preparing the body to take on whatever is coming its way but in doing so it prompts the production of cholesterol. Another reason stress can impact cholesterol is that it often leads people to eat fatty foods for comfort. People with a lower stress level often tend to eat better and have improved health over those who are constantly stressed.

Diabetics are more likely to develop heart disease than those without diabetes. People with heart disease are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease, narrows the blood vessels resulting in many medical complications including higher cholesterol levels.

Generally there are no symptoms of high cholesterol, that’s why early detection and careful monitoring are the best ways to maintain your health.