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Cholesterol and lifestyle

Hyperlipidemia - cholesterol and lifestyle; CAD - cholesterol and lifestyle; Coronary artery disease - cholesterol and lifestyle; Heart disease - cholesterol and lifestyle; Prevention - cholesterol and lifestyle; Cardiovascular disease - cholesterol and lifestyle; Peripheral artery disease - cholesterol and lifestyle; Stroke - cholesterol and lifestyle; Atherosclerosis - cholesterol and lifestyle

Your body needs cholesterol to work well. But cholesterol levels that are too high can harm you.

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Extra cholesterol in your blood builds up inside the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called plaque, or atherosclerosis. Plaque reduces or stops blood flow. This can cause a:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Serious heart or blood vessel disease

Your Cholesterol Numbers

All men should have their blood cholesterol levels tested every 5 years, starting at age 35. All women should do the same, starting at age 45. Many people should have their blood cholesterol levels tested at a younger age, possibly as early as age 20, if they have risk factors for heart disease. Have your cholesterol checked more often (probably every year) if you have:

A blood cholesterol test measures the level of total cholesterol. This includes HDL (good) cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Your LDL level is what health care providers watch most closely. You want it to be low. If it gets too high, you will need to treat it.

Treatment includes:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Losing weight (if you are overweight)
  • Exercising

You may also need medicine to lower your cholesterol.

You want your HDL cholesterol to be high. Exercise can help raise it.

Eating Right

It is important to eat right, keep a healthy weight, and exercise, even if:

  • You do not have heart disease or diabetes.
  • Your cholesterol levels are in the normal range.

These healthy habits may help prevent future heart attacks and other health problems.

Eat foods that are low in fat. These include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Using low-fat toppings, sauces, and dressings will help.

Look at food labels. Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat. Eating too much of this type of fat can lead to heart disease.

  • Choose lean protein foods, such as soy, fish, skinless chicken, very lean meat, and fat-free or 1% dairy products.
  • Look for the words "hydrogenated", "partially hydrogenated", and "trans fats" on food labels. DO NOT eat foods with these words in the ingredients lists.
  • Limit how much fried food you eat.
  • Limit how many prepared baked goods (donuts, cookies, and crackers) you eat. They may contain a lot of fats that are not healthy.
  • Eat fewer egg yolks, hard cheeses, whole milk, cream, ice cream, and cholesterol and lifestyle.
  • Eat less fatty meat and smaller portions of meat, in general.
  • Use healthy ways to cook fish, chicken, and lean meats, such as broiling, grilling, poaching, and baking.

Eat foods that are high in fiber. Good fibers to eat are oats, bran, split peas and lentils, beans (kidney, black, and navy beans), some cereals, and brown rice.

Learn how to shop for, and cook, foods that are healthy for your heart. Learn how to read food labels to choose healthy foods. Stay away from fast foods, where healthy choices can be hard to find.

Get plenty of exercise. And talk with your provider about what kinds of exercises are best for you.

References

American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes-2016 Abridged for Primary Care Providers. Clin Diabetes. 2016;34(1):3-21. PMID: 26807004 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26807004.

Heimburger DC. Nutrition's interface with health and disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 213.

Mozaffarian D. Nutrition and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 46.

Pencina MJ, Navar-Boggan AM, D'Agostino RB Sr, et al. Application of new cholesterol guidelines to a population-based sample. N Engl J Med. 2014;370(15):1422-1431. PMID: 24645848 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24645848.

Stone NJ, Robinson J, Lichtenstein AH, et al. 2013 ACC/AHA guideline on the treatment of blood cholesterol to reduce atherosclerotic cardiovascular risk in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2014;129(25 Suppl 2):S1-45. PMID: 24222016 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24222016.

    • Hardening of arteries

      Hardening of arteries

      Animation

    •  

      Hardening of arteries - Animation

      Blood is the fuel that keeps your body alive and working. It’s your blood that transports the oxygen your cells need to survive. To get to your heart and out the rest of your body, blood needs a clear pathway through your arteries. But as you get older - and if you eat too many French fries and cheeseburgers - your arteries can harden and narrow, fill with plaque, leaving less room for blood to flow through. Let’s talk today about atherosclerosis. Your arteries are like the pipes your water flows through to get to your bathroom sink. When the pipes are clear, water flows easily through them. But when minerals, rust, and other debris get stuck in the pipes, it clogs them up, leaving less room for water to flow through. That’s why you get nothing more than a drip when you turn on your bathroom sink. In your arteries, clogs are caused by plaque. Plaque is a substance made up of fat and cholesterol, which are found in unhealthy foods like those French fries and also bacon. Because plaque is sticky, it collects on your artery walls and blocks the flow of blood. Sometimes a clump of plaque breaks off and floats away to a smaller blood vessel leading to your heart or brain. If it gets stuck in that vessel, you can have a heart attack or stroke. Or, the plaque can weaken an artery wall, which is called an aneurysm. If that aneurysm breaks open, you could have a very life-threatening bleeding. How can you tell if you have atherosclerosis? Well, that’s the tricky part, because often atherosclerosis doesn’t cause any symptoms until you’ve got a blocked artery. And by then, you could already be having a heart attack or stroke. So that you don’t discover the problem too late, see your doctor for regular check-ups. Get your cholesterol screened by age 35 if you’re a man, age 45 if you’re a woman. Also have your blood pressure checked every 1 to 2 years before age 50, and then once a year after that. You may need to have your blood pressure checked even more often if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or you’ve already had a stroke. Although you can’t reverse atherosclerosis once it starts, you can prevent it with some easy lifestyle changes. Eat a balanced diet that’s high in heart-healthy fruits, vegetables, and fish. Exercise for at least 30 to 60 minutes a day. Stop smoking, cause that’s really bad news for your arteries. If your cholesterol is high, ask your doctor whether you should take cholesterol-lowering medication. Lastly, you may also need to take aspirin or another blood-thinning drug to prevent clots from forming in your arteries.

    • Hyperlipidemia - overview

      Hyperlipidemia - overview

      Animation

    •  

      Hyperlipidemia - overview - Animation

      Learn about the relationship between abnormally high amounts of some types of lipids in the blood and your health.

    • Hyperlipidemia: types, cholesterol and triglyceride

      Hyperlipidemia: types, cholesterol and triglyceride

      Animation

    •  

      Hyperlipidemia: types, cholesterol and triglyceride - Animation

      The types and causes of hyperlipidemia, and the relationship to some health risks.

    • Saturated fats

      Saturated fats - illustration

      Saturated fats are found predominantly in animal products such as meat and dairy products, and are strongly associated with higher cholesterol levels. Tropical oils such as palm, coconut, and coconut butter, are also high in saturated fats.

      Saturated fats

      illustration

    • Hardening of arteries

      Animation

    •  

      Hardening of arteries - Animation

      Blood is the fuel that keeps your body alive and working. It’s your blood that transports the oxygen your cells need to survive. To get to your heart and out the rest of your body, blood needs a clear pathway through your arteries. But as you get older - and if you eat too many French fries and cheeseburgers - your arteries can harden and narrow, fill with plaque, leaving less room for blood to flow through. Let’s talk today about atherosclerosis. Your arteries are like the pipes your water flows through to get to your bathroom sink. When the pipes are clear, water flows easily through them. But when minerals, rust, and other debris get stuck in the pipes, it clogs them up, leaving less room for water to flow through. That’s why you get nothing more than a drip when you turn on your bathroom sink. In your arteries, clogs are caused by plaque. Plaque is a substance made up of fat and cholesterol, which are found in unhealthy foods like those French fries and also bacon. Because plaque is sticky, it collects on your artery walls and blocks the flow of blood. Sometimes a clump of plaque breaks off and floats away to a smaller blood vessel leading to your heart or brain. If it gets stuck in that vessel, you can have a heart attack or stroke. Or, the plaque can weaken an artery wall, which is called an aneurysm. If that aneurysm breaks open, you could have a very life-threatening bleeding. How can you tell if you have atherosclerosis? Well, that’s the tricky part, because often atherosclerosis doesn’t cause any symptoms until you’ve got a blocked artery. And by then, you could already be having a heart attack or stroke. So that you don’t discover the problem too late, see your doctor for regular check-ups. Get your cholesterol screened by age 35 if you’re a man, age 45 if you’re a woman. Also have your blood pressure checked every 1 to 2 years before age 50, and then once a year after that. You may need to have your blood pressure checked even more often if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or you’ve already had a stroke. Although you can’t reverse atherosclerosis once it starts, you can prevent it with some easy lifestyle changes. Eat a balanced diet that’s high in heart-healthy fruits, vegetables, and fish. Exercise for at least 30 to 60 minutes a day. Stop smoking, cause that’s really bad news for your arteries. If your cholesterol is high, ask your doctor whether you should take cholesterol-lowering medication. Lastly, you may also need to take aspirin or another blood-thinning drug to prevent clots from forming in your arteries.

    • Hyperlipidemia - overview

      Animation

    •  

      Hyperlipidemia - overview - Animation

      Learn about the relationship between abnormally high amounts of some types of lipids in the blood and your health.

    • Hyperlipidemia: types, cholesterol and triglyceride

      Animation

    •  

      Hyperlipidemia: types, cholesterol and triglyceride - Animation

      The types and causes of hyperlipidemia, and the relationship to some health risks.

    • Saturated fats

      Saturated fats - illustration

      Saturated fats are found predominantly in animal products such as meat and dairy products, and are strongly associated with higher cholesterol levels. Tropical oils such as palm, coconut, and coconut butter, are also high in saturated fats.

      Saturated fats

      illustration

    Self Care

     

    Review Date: 8/22/2016

    Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

    The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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