High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need to Know

BY JAMES S. BURKHARDT, D.O.

Your blood cholesterol level has a lot to do with your chances of getting heart disease.  High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.  A risk factor is a condition that increases your chance of getting a disease. In fact, the higher your blood cholesterol level, the greater your risk for developing heart disease or having a heart attack.  Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States.  Each year, more than a million Americans have heart attacks and about a half million people die from heart disease.

When there is too much cholesterol (a fat-like substance) in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries.  Over time, this buildup causes “hardening of the arteries” so that arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart is slowed down or blocked.  The blood and oxygen cannot reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain.  If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack. 

High Blood cholesterol itself does not cause symptoms so many people are unaware that their cholesterol level is too high.  It is important to find out what your cholesterol numbers are because lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of a heart attack or dying of heart disease, even if you already have it.  Cholesterol lowering is important for everyone-younger, middle age, and older adults, women and men, and people with or without heart disease. 

Finding out what your cholesterol numbers are is an easy process. It is a simple blood test performed after 10-12 hours of fasting.  It will give information about

-Total cholesterol

-LDL (Bad) Cholesterol – the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage

-HDL (Good) Cholesterol – works as a scavenger to prevent cholesterol buildup in the blood vessels

-TRIGLYCERIDE – another form of fat in your blood

Total Cholesterol Level                                                    Category

Less than 200 mg/dL                                                           Desirable

200-239 mg/dL                                                                     Borderline high

240 mg/dL and above                                                         High

LDL Cholesterol Level                                                      LDL Cholesterol Category

Less than 100 mg/dL                                                           Optimal

100-129 mg/dL                                                                     Near optimal/above optimal

130-159 mg/dL                                                                     Borderline high

160-189 mg/dL                                                                     High

190 mg/dL and above                                                         Very high

Note: Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (d) of blood

HDL (good) cholesterol protects against heart disease, so for HDL, higher numbers are better.  A level less than 40 mg/dL is low and is considered a major risk factor because it increases your risk for developing heart disease.  HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or more help to lower your risk for heart disease.

Triglycerides can also raise heart disease risk.  Levels that are borderline high (150-199 mg/dL) or high (200 mg/dL or more) may need treatment in some people. 

In general, the higher your cholesterol levels and the more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of developing heart disease.  To find out your risk for having a heart attack, you can access a scoring tool @ hp2010.nhlbihim.net/latpiii/calculator or search Frammingham Risk Score. 

For more information risk of heart disease and cholesterol contact your family doctor.