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Cholesterol and Heart Disease

 

by the Go Red For Women Editors

Are you diligent about getting your cholesterol checked? Many women aren’t, and it’s because they think they don’t have to.

Take Kimberly Montgomery, for example. She was always a glass half full kind of woman, and her refusal to see things negatively placed her at a huge advantage – until it almost cost her her life.

Kimberly suffered a heart attack. She hadn’t been paying attention to her cholesterol numbers despite her family history of heart disease. “I just never considered that I could get heart disease,” she says. “I saw my doctor regularly and had great results at my company wellness screenings each year.”

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance found in the blood and in all the body’s cells. When it builds in the inner walls of your arteries over time, it hardens and turns into plaque. That plaque can narrow the artery walls and reduce blood flow, which you guessed it, can cause blocks that can lead to blood clots, heart attacks or strokes.

You might be surprised to learn that your body actually needs cholesterol to function normally and to stay healthy. But what we need to remember is that our bodies are fully capable of making all the cholesterol it needs. It’s what you put into your body (yes, we mean those salty snacks and baked goods), and in some cases your family health history that causes trouble.

It’s also important to note that all cholesterol isn’t created equally. There are two types: good and bad. And understanding the difference and knowing the levels of each in your blood is critical. Too much of one type, or not enough of another, can put you at risk.

Cholesterol types

  • LDL (bad) cholesterol: This is the type that, when too much is present in the blood stream, can clog your arteries and put you at risk for a heart attack or stroke. It’s produced naturally by the body, but is also inherited from your parents or even grandparents, and can cause you to create too much. Eating a diet high in saturated fat, trans fats and cholesterol also increases how much you have.
  • HDL (good) cholesterol: It is believed by some experts that high levels of this type of cholesterol removes excess plaque from your arteries, slowing its buildup and helping to protect against a heart attack. Low levels, however, can actually increase your risk.
  • Triglycerides: This is a form of fat made in the body. If you have an inactive lifestyle, a diet high in carbohydrates, smoke, are obese or drink too much alcohol, it can raise total cholesterol levels, and lead to high LDL and low HDL levels.

Cholesterol by the numbers

High cholesterol has no symptoms, and many people have it without knowing. Find out what your cholesterol levels are so you can lower them if you need to.

Total cholesterol:

  • Less than 200 mg/dL: Desirable level that puts you at lower risk for heart disease.
  • 200 to 239 mg/dL: Considered borderline high.
  • 240 mg/dL and above: High blood cholesterol. A person with this level has more than twice the risk of heart disease.

HDL cholesterol levels:

  • Less than 50 mg/dL: Low HDL cholesterol. A major risk factor for heart disease.
  • 60 mg/dL and above: High HDL cholesterol. Considered protective against heart disease.

LDL cholesterol levels:

  • Less than 100 mg/dL: Optimal
  • 100 to 129 mg/dL: Near or above optimal
  • 130 to 159 mg/dL: Borderline high
  • 160 to 189 mg/dL: High
  • 190 mg/dL and above: Very high

Triglyceride levels:

  • Less than 100 mg/dL: Optimal
  • Less than 150 mg/dL: Normal
  • 150–199 mg/dL: Borderline high
  • 200–499 mg/dL: High
  • 500 mg/dL and above: Very high

Putting an end to bad cholesterol

Your heart is in your hands. And heart disease is largely preventable if you work to lower your risks. So get on the horn and schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to learn what numbers you’re dealing with so you can lower them if you need to. Don’t wait to discover it after a heart attack strikes – Kimberly’s story is proof of that.

Now fully recovered, Kimberly does cardio every day and has adjusted her diet to be low in cholesterol and sodium. She’s also working hard to pass these healthy habits onto those around her.

“Women, in particular, need to be reminded to take care of our bodies an pay attention when something isn’t right,” she says. “We tend to focus so much on how everyone around us is feeling that we forget about ourselves.”

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