High Cholesterol Doubles Your Risk for Heart Disease

High Cholesterol Doubles Your Risk for Heart Disease

High Cholesterol Doubles Your Risk for Heart Disease

Nearly 1 in every 3 Americans has high cholesterol, which can clog blood vessels and lead to heart disease. In fact, people with high total cholesterol have about twice the risk for heart disease as people with healthy levels.

Along with family history, unhealthy diet, weight gain and lack of exercise are contributing factors for most people with high cholesterol.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is the fatty substance in your blood that is latched on to particles called lipoproteins. “Lipo” means “fat” or “fatty.”

Doctors test the blood for three main types:

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) — this is the “good” kind. HDL helps take cholesterol out of your body. It gives your arteries a better chance of being unaffected.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — this is the “bad” kind. LDL is the main type of harmful cholesterol. It can build up and block the arteries. Your risk for heart attack or stroke rises as your LDL level rises.
  • Triglycerides — this is another bad fat. High levels are often found with other heart disease risk factors.

Your total cholesterol is a blend of the three. A higher total means a greater risk for heart disease. The aim of treatment is to boost HDL while lowering LDL and triglycerides.

Confused about what your cholesterol numbers mean? Experts often suggest that those with average risk of heart disease aim for these levels:

  • HDL: 40 mg/dL or higher
  • LDL: Less than 130 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL
  • Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL

However, targets for LDL (bad) cholesterol and total cholesterol vary from person to person, according to the American Heart Association. Your doctor can tell you what your ideal cholesterol numbers should be.

Keeping Your Cholesterol in Check

Here are some ways to help manage cholesterol:

  • If you’re overweight, shed excess pounds.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Avoid saturated fat. It is found in meats, whole milk dairy products and some prepared foods.
  • Limit alcohol intake. Men should have no more than two drinks   per day, and women should have no more than one.
  • Quit smoking.

If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may recommend medicine along with these changes. You and your doctor will decide whether you need medicine by checking your test results and all your other risk factors.

If you do need medicine, be aware that not all brand name drugs are covered by your health plan. To try to keep your costs lower, ask if a generic version of a prescribed drug is available. It's also a good idea to check the drug list for your health plan to see what cholesterol drugs are covered and share that information with your doctor.

Getting your recommended screenings is an important part of managing your cholesterol. Blue Cross and Blue Shield members can take advantage of important health screenings available at no cost when services are provided by a network provider.*

Family History Can Be Critical

A study at Harvard Medical School  found that twice as many people as previously thought have a family tie to a severe form of high cholesterol. This inherited condition affects 1 in 250 adults in the United States.

People with this condition have high cholesterol from birth but may have no symptoms until they have already developed serious heart problems.

Findings in this study and others show the value of knowing your family medical history and sharing it with your doctor.

*Preventive services at no cost applies only to members enrolled in non-grandfathered health plans. You may have to pay all or part of the cost of preventive care if your health plan is grandfathered. To find out whether your plan is grandfathered or non-grandfathered, call the customer service number on your member ID card.
Sources: Cholesterol Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2020; About Cholesterol CDC, 2019; High Cholesterol Facts CDC, 2019; Preventing High Cholesterol CDC; 2020; Alcohol and Public Health Frequently Asked Questions CDC, 2018; Genetically inherited high cholesterol twice as common as believed American Heart Association, 2016; Lipid Blood Tests Cleveland Clinic, 2018
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