- What Is It?
- Cholesterol Tests
Normal cholesterol levels (measured in milligrams per deciliter or mg/dL) vary according to a person’s age and gender.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all the cells of the body. It is a type of fat that is produced by the liver. Cholesterol also comes from animal-derived foods, such as meat and dairy products. It is an essential substance needed by the body for various purposes. Too much cholesterol, however, harms the body and increases the risk of various medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart diseases.
Different types of cholesterol exist in the body. Important cholesterol values include measuring the total cholesterol, non-HDL (non-high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.
Based on age and gender, healthy cholesterol levels are as follows:
|Total Cholesterol||Less than 170 mg/dL|
|Non-HDL||Less than 120 mg/dL|
|LDL||Less than 100 mg/dL|
|HDL||More than 45 mg/dL|
|Total Cholesterol||125 to 200 mg/dL|
|Non-HDL||Less than 130 mg/dL|
|LDL||Less than 100 mg/dL|
|HDL||40 mg/dL or higher|
|Total Cholesterol||125 to 200 mg/dL|
|Non-HDL||Less than 130 mg/dL|
|LDL||Less than 100 mg/dL|
|HDL||50 mg/dL or higher|
The test used to measure cholesterol levels is called a lipoprotein panel. The lipoprotein panel also gives the value for triglycerides (TGs). Triglycerides are not a type of cholesterol, but they are as important as most of the fat in the body exists as TGs. A high triglyceride level can increase the risk of diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart diseases, and pancreatitis. Triglycerides are also measured in the same units as cholesterol (milligrams per deciliter or mg/dL). The values or numbers for TGs are classified as:
- Normal: A triglyceride level of less than 150 mg/dL.
- Borderline high: A triglyceride level between 150-199 mg/dL.
- High: A triglyceride level between 200-499 mg/dL.
- Very high: A triglyceride level of 500 mg/dL or higher.
What is bad cholesterol?
Cholesterol (a type of fat or lipid) moves in the body combined with proteins. This combination of cholesterol and proteins is called lipoproteins. The low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol is called bad cholesterol. High levels of this cholesterol increase risk for heart diseases and stroke.
When you have high levels of LDL cholesterol in the body, the LDL cholesterol can accumulate on the walls of the blood vessels forming a ‘plaque.’ The continuous cholesterol build-up or a plaque narrows the inside of the blood vessels with time. The narrowed blood vessel hampers the blood supply to the concerned organ. Thus, when the plaque is present in the heart, it can cause angina (chest pain) or a heart attack. Plaque build-up in the brain can cause a stroke.
Another type of cholesterol is HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. It is also called “good” cholesterol as it absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver. The liver then removes the cholesterol from the body. HDL cholesterol, thus, can lower your risk for heart diseases and stroke.
How is high cholesterol diagnosed?
Lipoprotein panel is a type of blood test that can measure cholesterol levels. Before the test, the patient may need to fast (not eat or drink anything but water) for 9-12 hours. The test gives information about different types of cholesterol:
- Total cholesterol: Shows the total amount of cholesterol in the blood. It includes both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
- LDL (bad) cholesterol: Transports cholesterol particles throughout the body. LDL cholesterol is often called “the bad cholesterol” because it builds up in the walls of the arteries, making them hard and narrow.
- HDL (good) cholesterol: Picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.
- Non-HDL: Number is total cholesterol minus HDL. Non-HDL includes LDL and other types of cholesterol such as very low–density lipoprotein (VLDL).
- Triglycerides: Another form of fat in the blood that can increase your risk for heart diseases, especially in women, is triglycerides.
Too much of the bad kind, or not enough of the good kind, increases the risk that cholesterol will slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain.
How often should I get my cholesterol levels checked?
The following provides general recommendations for various age groups.
People who are 19 years of age or younger should:
- Get the first test done between ages 9 to 11 years
- Repeat the test every 5 years
- For children, who have a family history of high blood cholesterol, heart attack, or stroke, the testing may start at 2 years of age
People who are age 20 years or older:
- Those between the age of 20 to 44 years should get tested every 5 years
- Women in the age group 45 to 54 years should get tested every 5 years
- Men in the age group 45 to 65 years should get their cholesterol levels checked every 1-2 years
- Women in the age group 55 to 65 years should get tested every 1-2 years
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What you need to know about managing cholesterol
Managing your cholesterol levels can help keep you healthy as you age. Here are some factors to take into account:
- Young adults may need to have total cholesterol less than 170 mg/dL.
- Adults who have total cholesterol levels less than 200 mg/dL are considered healthy.
- If total cholesterol is between 200 and 239 mg/dL, it is borderline high.
- If total cholesterol is 240 mg/dL and above, it is considered high and harmful.
Bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein [LDL]):
- LDL cholesterol levels should be less than 100 mg/dL.
- 100-129 mg/dL is acceptable for people with no health problems but maybe a concern for anyone with heart diseases or heart disease risk factors.
- 130-159 mg/dL is borderline high.
- 160 mg/dL and above is considered high and harmful.
Good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein [HDL]):
- Young adults may need to have HDL more than 45 mg/dL.
- The optimal reading for HDL levels is of 60 mg/dL or higher.
- If HDL is less than 40 mg/dL, it can be a major risk factor for heart disease.
- Young adults may need to have non-HDL cholesterol levels less than 120 mg/dL. Adults may need to maintain less than 130 mg/dL.
- A normal triglyceride level is below 150 mg/dL. A person may need treatment if they have triglyceride levels that are borderline high (150-199 mg/dL) or high (200 mg/dL or more).
What are sources of cholesterol?
Cholesterol is an important substance found in all cells of the body. It is a waxy, fat-like substance required by the body to build healthy cells, hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help in digestion of food. Excess cholesterol is harmful to the body. Cholesterol usually comes from the following sources:
- Liver: It makes the cholesterol that is required for the body.
- Food: The remainder of the cholesterol in the body comes from foods derived from animals (meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products). These foods are usually high in saturated and trans fats. These fats may cause the liver to produce more cholesterol; this added production means excess cholesterol, which is harmful for the body.
- Some tropical oils: Oils such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil if consumed may trigger the liver to produce more cholesterol. These oils are often found in baked goods.
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High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a disease in which pressure within the arteries of the body is elevated. About 75 million people in the US have hypertension (1 in 3 adults), and only half of them are able to manage it. Many people do not know that they have high blood pressure because it often has no has no warning signs or symptoms.
Systolic and diastolic are the two readings in which blood pressure is measured. The American College of Cardiology released new guidelines for high blood pressure in 2017. The guidelines now state that blood normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. If either one of those numbers is higher, you have high blood pressure.
The American Academy of Cardiology defines high blood pressure slightly differently. The AAC considers 130/80 mm Hg. or greater (either number) stage 1 hypertension. Stage 2 hypertension is considered 140/90 mm Hg. or greater.
If you have high blood pressure you are at risk of developing life threatening diseases like stroke and heart attack.
REFERENCE: CDC. High Blood Pressure. Updated: Nov 13, 2017.
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