Heart attacks and strokes are among the most common causes of disease and death. Even with modern advancements, such diseases often have devastating consequences, even for survivors.
The goal of a primary-care physician is to prevent such conditions from happening in the first place. In the case of heart disease, prevention consists of controlling risk factors that include high blood pressure, tobacco use, diabetes, obesity and cholesterol levels.
What is the importance of cholesterol?
Cholesterol is fatty substance in the blood that can build up and essentially clog blood vessels. LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) is the type that has been known to cause build-up, while HDL (good cholesterol) has been known to reduce build-up in the arteries.
If there are low levels of HDL or high levels of LDL, then arteries can slowly become inflamed, narrow and eventually develop plaques. When these plaques break off, they can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Cholesterol problems are usually a result of multiple factors. Unfortunately today’s diet with fast foods and microwave dinners is leading to an epidemic of consuming fatty foods, which are full of bad cholesterol.
Small changes can make a big difference. Rather than snacking on a bag of chips, try nuts, carrots or fruit. Keeping weight in control with exercise can also reduce cholesterol levels.
Unfortunately, even when risk factors are controlled, some people have poor cholesterol levels because of genetics.
Although you cannot feel or notice cholesterol problems, controlling cholesterol is extremely important to securing a healthy future. Because it is a marker of health, employers often offer free blood tests, and insurance companies to do blood tests for screening.
Cholesterol problems can be treated quite easily with medication, if diet control is not enough. A pill a day is certainly worth it if it reduces the risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol levels and goal numbers vary based on age and risk factors. Most guidelines recommend considering screening after age 20.
To understand if you are where you should be, discuss your cholesterol levels with your primary-care physician on a regular basis.
Dr. Mehul Suthar, an internal medicine physician, practices at Baptist Health Medical Group Primary Care in Richmond.