Cholesterol Levels and Testing: What You Need to Know
While most of us are used to hearing about the importance of heart health and maintaining a proper diet, a topic that receives less attention is cholesterol. Most people talk about cholesterol as an exclusively bad thing, but there are both good and bad types. Moreover, cholesterol plays an important role in your health. Maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol, both good and bad, helps decrease your risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Since September is National Cholesterol Education Month, it’s the perfect time to brush up on your cholesterol knowledge. In this article, we’ll also cover a few ways to improve your cholesterol and identify when you should have your cholesterol levels tested.
Good Cholesterol vs. Bad Cholesterol
While cholesterol is used as an umbrella term, there are actually two types. The first, known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is what we refer to as “bad” cholesterol. Meanwhile, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is what we call “good” cholesterol. Both types of cholesterol are found in your blood. In a healthy person, the liver produces all the necessary cholesterol. Eating foods high in saturated fats causes the liver to produce an excess, which leads to high levels of LDL cholesterol. Despite issues caused by having imbalanced levels, cholesterol is essential. Without it, your body cannot produce certain hormones and vitamins, create new tissue, or make bile to aid in digestion. LDL and HDL cholesterol work in a “tug-of-war” fashion. Bad cholesterol, or LDL, tends to build up along the walls of your arteries. This increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Meanwhile, HDL helps protect your body by carrying excess LDL cholesterol away from your arteries and back to the liver. Though this sounds like a perfect solution, HDL cannot directly combat high LDL levels since it is inefficient. When discussing cholesterol, it is also important to mention triglycerides. These are responsible for storing energy in the form of fat. They are the most common type of fat in the body. When combined with high LDL levels, too many triglycerides also increase your risk of artery disease, heart attack, and stroke.
What is Cholesterol Testing?
Since there is no such thing as just one “cholesterol,” it is important to get a bigger picture. This is where cholesterol testing comes in.
Your cholesterol levels can be checked with a simple blood test. It looks at four measurements, which are shown in the table below along with their goal levels.
|Total cholesterol||About 150 mg/dL|
|LDL “bad” cholesterol||About 100 mg/dL or less|
|HDL “good” cholesterol||Greater than or equal to 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women|
|Triglycerides||Less than 150 mg/dL|
Most often, your doctor will use a cholesterol test to measure how your levels change over time. With the right lifestyle changes, diet, and exercise, it’s possible to drastically improve your numbers. A cholesterol test can also be used to help determine your risk of conditions like a heart attack or stroke. Of course, one test doesn’t paint the whole picture. Factors like family history, smoking, diet, exercise levels, and past medical history must also be considered.
Do I Need a Cholesterol Test?
Most people don’t think about getting their cholesterol levels checked. However, the CDC recommends that healthy adults should have a test every four to six years. Doing so helps catch high cholesterol levels early. You can then modify your lifestyle to decrease your risk of more serious conditions. Anyone with a family history of high cholesterol should get tested more often. Likewise, people with a history of heart disease, stroke, or diabetes should get their cholesterol levels checked more frequently. It’s important to discuss this with your doctor to determine how often you should get tested. Finally, children need to have their levels checked a few times. Once between the ages of nine and 11 and again between the ages of 17 and 21.
How to Improve Cholesterol Levels
Once you’ve identified that your cholesterol levels are higher than they should be, it’s time to take action. The American Heart Association promotes the check, change, control approach to managing cholesterol. The first step, check, means getting a cholesterol test according to guidelines for your age and risk level. Change means modifying your diet and lifestyle. A few ways to improve your cholesterol levels include getting regular exercise, avoiding saturated fats and processed foods, and maintaining a healthy weight. Finally, control means working with your healthcare provider to manage your levels. Some people have difficulty managing their cholesterol with diet and exercise alone. This can be due to genetic factors, weight, or medical history. Medications to help lower cholesterol levels do exist. Your healthcare provider will help determine if those may be right for you.
Velocity Urgent Care is Ready to Help
If you want to get your cholesterol levels checked, Velocity Urgent Care is here to help. Each one of our conveniently located centers offers lab services and is ready to get you in and out quickly. We offer convenient online registration that helps you limit your contact with others during your visit. You can sign up for an appointment online to skip the waiting room and arrive when it’s your turn to be seen. Velocity Urgent Care even offers text message updates so you can wait in the car (if you prefer) until it’s time for your appointment. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are taking serious safety precautions to ensure that our locations are as clean as possible. We’ve put strict sterilization protocols into place and are carefully handling patients who may be contagious to ensure that each one of our clinics is safe for those who need urgent medical care or occupational health services.
Velocity Urgent Care is an in-network provider for most major insurance plans, meaning you can be seen for the cost of your co-pay and deductible.
All our locations also accept Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare. Veterans Administration beneficiaries are also welcome.
To learn more about our services, locations, hours, and more, visit www.velocityuc.com.