Cholesterol is a type of lipid (fat) that is essential for many functions in the body, including the production of hormones, cell membranes, and vitamin D. It is carried in the blood by proteins called lipoproteins.
High levels of cholesterol in the blood can increase the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. There are two main types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol because it can build up in the walls of arteries, leading to plaque formation and narrowing of the arteries. HDL, on the other hand, is often referred to as "good" cholesterol because it helps to remove cholesterol from the arteries and transport it to the liver for elimination.
High cholesterol levels can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, diet, lack of exercise, and certain medical conditions. Treatment for high cholesterol may include lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet and regular exercise, as well as medications such as statins that can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
It's important to have your cholesterol levels checked regularly, particularly if you have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease. High cholesterol levels often do not cause symptoms, so testing is the only way to know if your levels are within a healthy range.
The American Heart Association recommends that all adults over the age of 20 have their cholesterol levels checked at least once every four to six years. If you have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or a family history of heart disease, you may need to have your cholesterol levels checked more frequently.
In addition to medication and lifestyle changes, managing cholesterol levels may involve treating underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism, that can contribute to high cholesterol levels. Your healthcare provider can help you develop a personalized plan to manage your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.