What Is Cholesterol?
The waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells of your body is commonly referred to as cholesterol. It’s available in some foods, such as meat and dairy products, but your liver also makes it naturally. Like most systems in your body, cholesterol plays a complex role in how you function. While cholesterol is necessary for your body to operate, too much of the wrong kind can mean a higher risk of coronary artery disease.
What Are The Different Types?
The two main types of cholesterol in your body are LDL, low-density lipoprotein, and HDL, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. LDL is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, as it’s a source of buildup and plaque in your arteries. However, HDL is the “good” kind of cholesterol that can help remove buildup from your arteries. High levels of HDL cholesterol may even help lower your risk of heart disease or stroke.
Who Should Get A Cholesterol Test?
Cholesterol levels vary by age, weight and gender. Over time, a person's body tends to produce more cholesterol, meaning that all adults should check their cholesterol levels regularly, ideally about every 4–6 years. Doctors recommend taking steps earlier in life to prevent dangerously high levels of LDL cholesterol developing as you get older, as years of unmanaged cholesterol can be much more difficult to treat.
Children are least likely to have high levels of cholesterol and only need to have their levels checked once or twice before they are 18 years old. However, if your child has risk factors for higher levels of cholesterol, such as family history or obesity, they should get monitored more frequently.
Men usually tend to have higher levels of cholesterol than women throughout their lives. A man's cholesterol levels generally increase as they age. However, many women also battle with having high cholesterol. A woman's cholesterol typically will increase as she goes through menopause.
What Happens in a Cholesterol Test?
Your cholesterol levels are measured with a simple blood test called a lipoprotein panel. On the day of your test, it’s important that you don’t eat or drink anything but water for 9–12 hours before the test is performed. Some people find it’s easiest to fast if they get an appointment as early in the day as possible. Once you arrive at your appointment, a phlebotomist will collect blood samples with a very small needle.
It’s important to stay very still, so the procedure can be completed quickly and accurately. Most people say they feel a very small pinch, but some people say they feel nothing while having their blood drawn. Your phlebotomist will have your blood analyzed by the lab, and you’ll receive your results soon online or via the AdventHealth app, as well as at your follow-up doctor visit.
What Do My Results Mean?
The cholesterol test given by your AdventHealth phlebotomist will give your doctor important information about the following:
- Total cholesterol: A measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood. It includes both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
- LDL (bad) cholesterol: The main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries
- HDL (good) cholesterol: HDL helps remove cholesterol from your arteries
- Non-HDL cholesterol: This number is your total cholesterol minus your HDL. Your non-HDL includes LDL and other types of cholesterol such as VLDL (very-low-density lipoprotein)
- Triglycerides: Another form of fat in your blood that can raise your risk for heart disease, especially in women
Your doctor will discuss the results of your blood test with you at a follow-up appointment, but LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) levels are categorized as follows:
- Less than 100 mg/dL is optimal
- 100–129 mg/dL is near optimal/above optimal
- 130–159 mg/dL is borderline high
- 160–189 mg/dL is high
- 190 mg/dL and above is very high
How Can I Manage My Cholesterol Levels?
You and your doctor will work together to create a plan that helps lower your bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol levels to improve heart health. That may include maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise, or possibly medication.
The TLC Diet
This way of eating is a low-saturated-fat, low-cholesterol diet that encourages people to eat foods such as fish, nuts, lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Various books on the TLC diet are available to purchase online and may help those interested in following the diet plan to lower cholesterol.
Proper weight management is another essential part of lowering cholesterol and preventing it building up. Overweight people who reduce their weight can help lower LDL in the process. Losing weight is especially important for overweight individuals with increased risk factors such as low HDL cholesterol or high triglycerides. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can make a huge difference. Get the kids involved and go for a bike ride or toss the ball in the yard.
When these steps are not enough, drug treatment may also be needed. Women going through menopause and adults with high levels of cholesterol may also want to consider medication that will help reduce cholesterol levels more rapidly than lifestyle changes alone. Talk to your doctor about if medication is the right choice for you.
Generally, the earlier an adult starts living a healthful lifestyle, the better for their cholesterol levels. High cholesterol at any age puts a person at risk for heart disease, heart attack and strokes. These risks only increase over time, especially for adults who are not taking action to reduce their cholesterol buildup.
Test Your Cholesterol Today
The best treatment to lower cholesterol levels involves a range of different methods, including lifestyle and diet. Ultimately, speaking with your doctor and getting a lipid profile test is the first step toward figuring out the best way to manage your own cholesterol levels.
Take control of your whole health today — ask your doctor about your cholesterol levels and how to get a lipid profile test at an AdventHealth Lab near you.