If you’re like most people, you probably know too much cholesterol is “bad” for your health — but do you know why? If not, it’s a good idea to learn how cholesterol levels affect your heart health and your overall health, too.
As a leading cardiology practice in Arizona, Phoenix Heart is dedicated to providing patient-centered care tailored to each person’s unique health needs and goals. In this post, the team offers a brief overview of cholesterol and its link to heart health, along with offering a few simple suggestions to help you manage your cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol and cardiovascular health
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that’s produced by your liver. It plays a key role in forming cell membranes and synthesizing certain hormones, as well as vitamin D. A healthy liver makes all the cholesterol the body needs.
We also get cholesterol from the foods we eat. If we eat a lot of high-cholesterol foods, we can wind up with too much cholesterol in our blood. Because it’s sticky, cholesterol (specifically, LDL cholesterol) can “stick” to artery walls, forming plaques that narrow the arteries and stiffen them, making it a lot harder for blood to circulate.
When blood flow slows down, it can prevent your heart (and other organs) from getting the oxygen they need to work normally. Eventually, you can develop coronary artery disease, the leading cause of heart disease and death in the United States.
Arteries that are partially clogged with cholesterol can cause chest pain, also called angina. When blood flow is completely blocked, you can have a heart attack.
Good vs. bad
You often hear cholesterol referred to as “good” and “bad.” “Bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, is the type of cholesterol that’s mainly responsible for clogging your arteries. This “fluffy” substance adheres more readily to your vessel walls, causing sticky “plaques” that stiffen artery walls and decrease blood flow.
“Good” cholesterol is also called HDL, short for high-density lipoprotein. As the name implies, it's denser and less “fluffy” than LDL. The reason it’s called “good” is that it can help clear away deposits of LDL, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis and heart attacks.
The fact is, your body needs some of both types of cholesterol in order to function the way it’s supposed to. Problems arise when you have too much “bad” cholesterol or too little “good” cholesterol.
Managing your cholesterol
Many people can successfully manage their cholesterol levels with lifestyle changes like:
- Reducing fat intake, especially saturated fats
- Being more physically active
- Losing excess weight
- Eating foods high in fiber
- Quitting smoking
When lifestyle changes aren’t enough to decrease “bad” cholesterol and increase “good” cholesterol, your doctor might recommend medications to help.
Statins are one of the most common types of cholesterol-lowering drugs. These medicines are often prescribed to help reduce the risk of complications, like illness and death, in people with heart disease or who are at risk for heart disease.
High cholesterol doesn’t cause symptoms, and many people don’t know they have high cholesterol until they have a serious medical problem, like chest pain or a heart attack. The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is to have routine blood tests to monitor your cholesterol, especially as you get older.
Don’t leave your heart health to chance
Since high cholesterol doesn’t cause any symptoms on its own, it may be tempting to put off having your cholesterol levels measured. But by not having a blood test, you could be leaving yourself at significantly increased risk of heart attack and death.
Don’t put off your cholesterol screening. With locations in Glendale, Goodyear, Anthem, and Canyon City, Arizona, Phoenix Heart makes it easy to have your cholesterol screened regularly. To learn how our team can help you manage your cholesterol levels and improve your cardiovascular health, call or book an appointment online today.