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Study finds nearly half of heart attack and stroke survivors don't know what 'bad' cholesterol is

Posted at 5:40 PM, Feb 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-05 17:40:52-05

(WXYZ) — In today’s Health Alert, about 86 million American adults have high cholesterol levels, yet surprisingly, one-third haven’t checked their cholesterol in the last five years. Plus, a recent survey found that many survivors of heart attack and stroke have high cholesterol, yet almost half were not aware that LDL cholesterol is also known as "bad cholesterol."

I know cholesterol can be confusing as I get questions from my patients all the time. So, what exactly is cholesterol? Well, it’s a fatty or waxy substance. Your body uses it to build cells and create vitamins and hormones. It comes from two sources. Your liver produces it naturally, and you also get it from animal-based foods like meat and dairy. These foods have a lot of saturated fat and trans fats, which can cause your liver to produce more cholesterol than you need, leading to unhealthy levels.

You see, cholesterol circulates in the blood. And when it's high, it can create these fat deposits in your blood vessels. Over time, these deposits get bigger, making it tough for blood to flow through arteries. The real danger comes in when these deposits suddenly break and form a clot, which leads to a heart attack or stroke.

The tricky thing about high cholesterol is that most folks don't notice any problems until their arteries are seriously blocked. That's why adults aged 20 and above should get their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years. It's a simple blood test that checks levels of HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Now, HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. It’s the good cholesterol as it carries extra cholesterol back to the liver for removal. So, you want this number to be high. For most people, aim to be above 40 mg/dL, preferably above 60.

As for LDL, this stands for low-density lipoprotein. It’s the bad cholesterol that builds up on artery walls. So you want this number to be low. For most people, aim to be below 100 mg/dL.

And for triglycerides, they’re the most common type of fat in the body. It mainly comes from food, and if you have high levels, this can lead to hardening arteries and increase your risk of heart disease. Best to keep levels under 150 mg/dL.

As for lowering your risk, you can start by knowing your numbers and talking to your family doctor. There are medications like statins that can reduce your bad LDL cholesterol if it’s too high. Also, cut back on animal products and high-cholesterol foods. Add more fruits and veggies to your diet, quit smoking, and make sure to exercise most days of the week.