Cholesterol is a compound that our bodies make from saturated fats. Too much can be a bad thing. High cholesterol is a risk factor for having a cardiovascular event such as a stroke or heart attack. It can lead to atherosclerosis or thickening of the arteries with plaque buildup. This can lead to peripheral artery disease where pain and loss of feeling happens in the fingers and toes. It can also lead to a clot that obstructs blood circulation or clogs blood flow in another part of the body such as the brain or lungs.
There are several different types of cholesterol that can be tested after fasting for at least 8hours. Low density lipoprotein (LDL) is the “bad” type that causes atherosclerosis. High density lipoprotein (HDL) is the “good” type that carries cholesterol away from organs and gets filtered out through the liver. We want that number to be high. Triglycerides are another “bad” fatty type that is better to keep low
How do we decide if it’s time to start a medication and discuss lifestyle changes like a healthier diet and exercise? We take into account all the risk factors like sex, age, race, cigarette smoking, diabetes, blood pressure, treatment for blood pressure, and of course cholesterol. We then calculate a percentage that tells the risk of having a cardiovascular event within 10 years and also within your lifetime. If the 10 year percentage is five or above, medication is recommended. Staying on this medication indefinitely will reduce your risk of a cardiovascular event over your lifetime.
If your calculated risk is below 5%, we focus more on lifestyle habits such as eating a diet focused on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, poultry, and low fat dairy products like yogurt. Avoiding high saturated fats such as high-fat cheeses and meats, butter, cream, and ice cream can lower cholesterol. Exercising most days of the week for at least 20 minutes should be incorporated into healthy life habits.
As usual, the best way to avoid a heart attack or stroke and prevent high cholesterol is with these lifestyle habits, however making those lifestyle changes and adding a medication, when necessary, is worth it to reduce that risk! It is important to get your cholesterol tested in order to see what your risk is and get motivated for some lifestyle changes if needed. This test is usually covered by insurance with your annual physical.
Josie Decker is a board certified family nurse practitioner who received her undergraduate from University of Utah in 2013. Josie joined Exodus Healthcare in 2014. She enjoys cooking, gardening, and prayer, running/hiking/snowshoeing in the mountain and traveling. Josie enjoys a wide range of family medicine and providing care for all ages. In this article, she educates you on cholesterol and being healthy.
Josie Decker, FNP, is located at Exodus Healthcare Network, 3665 S. 8400 W., Suite 100, in Magna. She is now accepting new patients. If you have any questions or concerns that you would like to talk with Josie about, call 801-250-9638 to make an appointment.