Some years ago, my father was wrestling with my nephews and could not get up when he was wrestled to the ground. The kids didn’t realize anything was wrong and had left the playroom. For what seemed like 30 minutes, he could not get up nor move his arm nor call out for help. Eventually he was able to get up and tell my brother to call an ambulance.
Luckily for my dad, he did not have a stroke or heart attack. He simply had a TIA (transient ischemic attack) which was a warning sign that a true stroke may happen in the future if something is not done to prevent it.
My father went to the hospital and found out his cartoid artery was 90% occluded (blocked). Within a month, he had a carotid endarterectomy which removed the blockage and saved his life.
Why is this important to you?
My father had been told he had high cholesterol but didn’t know what this meant for his health. The high levels of “bad” cholesterol caused plaque to build up in the arteries in his neck and narrow the space for blood to get to his brain. Even though he did not know it, he was slowly getting less and less oxygen to his brain and heading for a stroke, which could have happened while he was driving. When my nephews wrestled on him, they were jumping on his back and neck and likely dislodged some of the plaque which caused the transient ischemic attack.
Now my father takes cholesterol medication and watches his diet. He continues with his regular exercise routine. At 77, he’s an avid swimmer and maintains a home and his community’s lawn and drainage system. He gets regular checkups and monitors his cholesterol levels, now that he understands why it’s important. And yes, he still wrestles with my nephews!
Workplace Wellness Assessments
Many workplaces offer free wellness screenings as do health centers and hospitals. Wellness screenings often consist of checking your blood pressure, your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. But if your cholesterol levels are high, what does this mean for you?
How to Interpret Your Cholesterol Results
Your test report will show your cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). To determine how your cholesterol levels affect your risk of heart disease, your doctor will also take into account other risk factors such as age, family history, smoking and high blood pressure.
A complete fasting lipoprotein profile will show:
- Your total blood (or serum) cholesterol level
- Your HDL (good) cholesterol level
- Your LDL (bad) cholesterol level
- Your triglyceride level
Less than 200 mg/dL: Desirable
If your LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels are also at desirable levels and you have no other risk factors for heart disease, total blood cholesterol below 200 mg/dL puts you at relatively low risk of coronary heart disease. Even with a low risk, however, it’s still smart to eat a heart-healthy diet, get regular physical activity and avoid tobacco smoke. Have your cholesterol levels checked every five years or as your doctor recommends.
200–239 mg/dL: Borderline-High Risk
If your total cholesterol falls between 200 and 239 mg/dL, your doctor will evaluate your levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides. It’s possible to have borderline-high total cholesterol numbers with normal levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol balanced by high HDL (good) cholesterol. Work with your doctor to create a prevention and treatment plan that’s right for you. Make lifestyle changes, including eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular physical activity and avoiding tobacco smoke. Depending on your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and your other risk factors, you may also need medication. Ask your doctor how often you should have your cholesterol rechecked.
240 mg/dL and over: High Risk
People who have a total cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL or more typically have twice the risk of coronary heart disease as people whose cholesterol level is desirable (200 mg/dL). If your test didn’t show your LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides, your doctor should order a fasting profile. Work with your doctor to create a prevention and treatment plan that’s right for you. Whether or not you need cholesterol-regulating medication, make lifestyle changes, including eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular physical activity and avoiding tobacco smoke.
With HDL (good) cholesterol, higher levels are better. Low HDL cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dL for men, less than 50 mg/dL for women) puts you at higher risk for heart disease. In the average man, HDL cholesterol levels range from 40 to 50 mg/dL. In the average woman, they range from 50 to 60 mg/dL. An HDL cholesterol of 60 mg/dL or higher gives some protection against heart disease.
Smoking, being overweight and being sedentary can all result in lower HDL cholesterol. To raise your HDL level, avoid tobacco smoke, <!–
–>maintain a healthy weight<!– –> and get at least 30–60 minutes of physical activity more days than not.
People with high blood triglycerides usually also have lower HDL cholesterol and a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Progesterone, anabolic steroids and male sex hormones (testosterone) also lower HDL cholesterol levels. Female sex hormones raise HDL cholesterol levels.
The lower your LDL cholesterol, the lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, it’s a better gauge of risk than total blood cholesterol. In general, LDL levels fall into these categories:
|LDL Cholesterol Levels|
|Less than 100 mg/dL||Optimal|
|100 to 129 mg/dL||Near Optimal/ Above Optimal|
|130 to 159 mg/dL||Borderline High|
|160 to 189 mg/dL||High|
|190 mg/dL and above||Very High|
Your other risk factors for heart disease and stroke help determine what your LDL level should be, as well as the appropriate treatment for you. A healthy level for you may not be healthy for your friend or neighbor. Discuss your levels and your treatment options with your doctor to get the plan that works for you.
For more info, go to the American Heart Association’s website here.