RAVI DAVE, M.D.
This month is “National Cholesterol Education Month,” and September 26 is designated as “World Heart Day.” Do you know your cholesterol numbers and overall risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States?
What better time than now to get your cholesterol checked, learn where you stand and take steps to lower it, if necessary?
Let’s begin with the basics. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in our bodies, as well as many foods. Our bodies produce and need it to function normally. However, too much cholesterol from food sources can build deposits in arteries, known as “plaque,” causing them to narrow and raising the risk for heart attacks and strokes.
High cholesterol often is not accompanied by symptoms. Consequently, many people are unaware their cholesterol levels are too high until they develop clots that cause heart attacks or strokes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100 million Americans have total cholesterol levels above the healthy threshold, and more than 35 million people have levels that put them at high risk for heart disease.
Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to measure your total cholesterol level, LDL or “bad” cholesterol, HDL or “good” cholesterol. An easy way to remember the difference is to associate LDL with “lousy” cholesterol. HDL is considered good cholesterol because it provides a preventive effect against the buildup of arterial deposits.
The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that healthy adults get their cholesterol checked every five years. Of course, people who have elevated cholesterol levels or have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease should get tested more frequently, in accordance with their physician’s recommendations.
Lifestyle changes can help lower cholesterol levels and keep them within desirable ranges. The following steps form a solid foundation for taking control of your cholesterol:
• Eat a healthy diet. Avoid saturated and trans fats and consume more high-fiber foods.
• Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can raise cholesterol levels.
• Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight. Exercise raises “good” cholesterol levels.
• Maintain a healthy blood pressure.
• Don’t smoke or quit smoking, which harms blood vessels.
• Talk to your doctor about medications, if lifestyle changes alone are unable to modify your cholesterol levels.
Follow these steps and your heart will love you!
Dr. Ravi Dave is a board-certified cardiologist at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital and clinical professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. For more information, call 310.582.6220 or visit www.uclahealth.org.