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How to Determine Your High Cholesterol Health Risk

A common misperception is that “cholesterol” is a bad thing. True, cholesterol has received a lot of bad press over the years, but the fact is, our body needs cholesterol to function. Your liver is constantly making cholesterol to ensure you have enough and cholesterol is an important building block for our brains, nervous system and also our skin, solid organs and our hormones!

The average liver actually makes more cholesterol in a day than you consume. This soft, waxy-like fatty substance is both helpful and harmful. Your body needs cholesterol to function properly and to produce hormones that regulate body function. Before we had grocery stores, natural sources of cholesterol were scare and thus our body evolved to produce as much cholesterol as we can. 

When your doctor tells you that you have high cholesterol, you may or may not have a problem. Determining whether your levels fall into “good” or “bad” cholesterol level categories really depends on whether you actually have heart disease or not, and what your underlying health risks actually are.

There are two common groups of patients, those that fall into primary prevention and those that are part of the secondary prevention group. The secondary prevention group is made up of patients who have already experienced heart problems stemming from high cholesterol. Let’s take a look at some of the problems or symptoms a secondary group patient might have experienced previously.

What Are Common High Cholesterol Symptoms?

Unfortunately, the first signs or symptoms of high unhealthy cholesterol levels are typically end-stage symptoms like:

  • Heart attack — Blockage of one of the arteries that feeds the heart muscle.
  • Stroke — Blockage of an artery in the neck or brain.
  • Angina — Pain caused by narrowing of one or more of the arteries feeding the heart.

There are disorders that may show other symptoms of high cholesterol, but these are very rare. In order to get a better understanding of your cholesterol levels, you should examine your risk factors for high cholesterol.

Risk Factors for High Cholesterol

There are certain risk factors that can help estimate how closely you should be watching your cholesterol levels. By observing things like your age, gender, race, blood pressure, diabetes status and smoker status, you can use a high cholesterol Risk Estimator Calculator to help you evaluate your risk.  This ASCVD calculator was developed by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology and remains a guideline for physicians to treat dyslipidemia or abnormal cholesterol.

After submitting your response to the calculator, you’ll be given a percentage risk with optimal risk factors. Anyone who shows a risk greater than 7% should be seen by a doctor to evaluate statins or other medications to reduce risk.

What Causes Bad Cholesterol Levels? 

Beyond the risk factors in the risk estimator, some common risk factors to consider include:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Poor Diet
  • Sedentary Lifestyle
  • Some rare medical disorders and diseases, such as inborn metabolic syndromes

How Can I Reduce My High Cholesterol Risk?

Start by getting a baseline cholesterol reading from your doctor. See what your HDL, LDL and Triglyceride levels are so you know where to go from there. Then, use the ASCVD Risk Calculator to help determine your risks.

The best time to start working on reaching healthy cholesterol levels is when you’re young, but starting to be proactive at any age is important. A sedentary lifestyle and a diet comprised mostly of highly refined carbohydrates are key contributors to high cholesterol levels, so managing and adjusting these two items first can often resolve many issues.

If your calculated risk is greater than 7 percent, consider contacting your doctor about medication to lower your cholesterol.

If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels and your risk factors, make an appointment today.

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Published June 14, 2019

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