Understanding Cholesterol

Do you know what your cholesterol level is? Experts say you should, since high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, the nation’s number one killer. According to the current national guidelines, however, just knowing your total cholesterol is not enough to assess your heart disease risk.

When asked if they know their cholesterol levels are, these men and women on the street have different but similar answers:

“Do I know what my cholesterol level is? No.”

“No. I don’t have the slightest idea what my cholesterol level is.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever had my cholesterol checked. That’s really sad.”

It’s sad, but could also be dangerous, considering more than 99 million Americans now have high cholesterol, and more now need drugs.

The number of people in the United States who need drug therapy moved from about 13 million up to over 35 million.”

In an effort to lower that number, Dr. Howard, an endocrinologist at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., helped devise new National Cholesterol Guidelines.

“We are now emphasizing looking at people who are very high risk who don’t have heart disease,” he says.

Under the new guidelines, everyone over age 20 should get a full lipid profile done every five years. That includes total cholesterol, HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol, LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol, as well as triglycerides, a form of fat in the blood.

Dr. Howard says, “All of those numbers are important in really determining what your risk may be.”

Now, an HDL below 40 puts someone at higher risk — that number is up from 35. An LDL below 100 is optimal. People with diabetes and a condition called metabolic syndrome are also at higher risk.

“We have proven since the last report that intervening in people with cholesterol levels that were formerly thought not to be terribly dangerous can benefit them,” says Dr. Howard.

In the meantime, you can keep your cholesterol levels in check by exercising regularly and eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.

Source: Ivanhoe – May 2002

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