Chances are you’ve heard about cholesterol before. It may have come up in a discussion about eating a balanced diet. Or living a healthy lifestyle. Or lowering your risk of heart disease, which is the number one killer of adults in the United States. 

But what exactly is cholesterol? And why does it matter for your health? Continue reading to learn more about cholesterol and why your doctor should check your levels regularly.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in all cells of the body. It plays many important roles, such as making Vitamin D and hormones, and helping with digestion.

There are two main types of cholesterol. The first is “high-density lipoprotein” (HDL), sometimes known as “good cholesterol.” HDL supports your health in several ways: 

  • Helps the liver create bile, a fluid that aids digestion.
  • Maintains the structure of blood vessels and cells. 
  • Supports bone health, mental health, and sexual drive. 

The second type of cholesterol is “low-density lipoprotein” (LDL), sometimes known as “bad cholesterol.” When your body has too much LDL, a sticky plaque can develop inside your arterial walls. This can constrict blood flow throughout the body. That may put you at greater risk of heart attack, heart disease, or stroke.

“Total cholesterol” is the sum of your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, plus triglycerides. (Triglycerides are a fat-like substance similar to cholesterol.)

Why is it Important to Monitor?

Too much LDL cholesterol in your body can cause serious health problems. Too little HDL cholesterol can disrupt many vital bodily functions. Stay healthier by keeping both kinds of cholesterol in their ideal ranges.

The ideal total cholesterol level for an adult is between 140-200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). Total cholesterol levels above 240mg/dL are considered too high. High total cholesterol may put your health at risk and should be evaluated by your doctor.

However, the different types of cholesterol (HDL and LDL) have different ideal ranges. For HDL, you want a level that is higher than 60mg/dL. For LDL, any levels under 100mg/dL are considered healthy. 

The American Heart Association recommends that adults age 20 or older have their cholesterol levels checked at least every 4 to 6 years. During your primary care visit, a sample of blood will be taken from a vein in your arm using a small needle. The needle may cause a slight sting, but the process is otherwise not painful. It takes less than five minutes. Your doctor will send the blood sample to a laboratory to measure your cholesterol levels.

If your cholesterol levels raise any concerns, your doctor will advise you on your best options for improving them. With regular monitoring and maintenance, you and your doctor can do a lot to lower your risk of serious health problems. It’s an important practice for your overall health and wellness.

If you need a primary care physician or have questions about your cholesterol levels, click here to contact us or call 770-463-4644.