Cholesterol is a lipid, which is a type of fat, that is found in a person’s blood. There are two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. LDL cholesterol is “bad” and can increase the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. HDL is “good” and is connected to reduced risk for cardiovascular problems and stroke. The body requires a certain amount of cholesterol to function properly and is able to make all it could ever need. However, when a person consumes foods that are high in fat, cholesterol levels can increase to unhealthy and dangerous levels. For example, when large amounts of cholesterol accumulate in an individual’s blood vessels and arteries, they cause a hardening of the arteries known as atherosclerosis, which results in blood flow and blood pressure issues. Atherosclerosis can also cause swelling and blood clots, which can influence the occurrence of heart attacks and strokes.
Several factors can influence high cholesterol levels. Healthy diet and exercise choices help with another risk factor for high cholesterol levels, obesity. The foods a person eats can significantly increase cholesterol levels if there are too many choices with high saturated fat or trans-fat content. The amount of physical activity a person manages can also affect cholesterol levels, and studies show that regular exercise helps the body metabolize and process fats and sugars. Adults are recommended to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week. Being obese and carrying too much fatty body tissue can reduce the body’s levels of HDL cholesterol. Age and family history are both contributing factors in developing high cholesterol.
High cholesterol frequently does not occur with symptoms, so it’s important to have, from the age of 20, regular cholesterol screenings during an annual exam. The most effective way to measure a person’s cholesterol levels is with a blood test called a lipid panel. Lipid panels are common inclusions on lab work ordered by physicians when a patient has an annual physical exam. This test determines the precise levels of the fats in an individual’s blood.
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