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High cholesterol: Key points
  • Cholesterol is a substance with numerous important functions in the body. However, if the levels of cholesterol in your blood are unhealthy, it can cause life-threatening problems.
  • Excess cholesterol builds up on the inner walls of arteries throughout the body, forming scar tissue and plaque. The plaque deposits harden and narrow the wall of the artery, reducing or stopping blood flow. This can cause a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular problem.
  • Everyone should have their blood cholesterol levels tested at least every 5 years.
  • A blood cholesterol test looks at the level of four things: total cholesterol, HDL ("good") cholesterol, LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and triglycerides.
  • Here's a simple rule to remember: you want HDL to be HIGH, and you want LDL to be LOW.
  • Your LDL level is what doctors watch most carefully. If it gets too high, it will need to be treated. Treatment includes eating better, losing weight, and exercising more. You may also need medication.
  • People who do not have heart disease, or who have average cholesterol levels, still need to eat right, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise. These steps help PREVENT future heart attacks and other complications for EVERYONE. Even for people with average cholesterol levels, lowering LDL further may reduce the risk of future heart attacks.

Eating right

  • Choose lean, protein-rich foods -- soy, fish, skinless chicken, very lean meat, and fat free or 1% dairy products.
  • Eat foods that are naturally low in fat -- like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Get plenty of soluble fiber -- with oats, bran, dry peas, beans, cereal, and rice.
  • Limit your consumption of fried foods, processed foods, and commercially prepared baked goods (donuts, cookies, crackers).
  • Limit animal products, such as egg yolks, cheeses, whole milk, cream, ice cream, and fatty meats (and large portions of meats).
  • Look at food labels, especially for the level of saturated fat. Avoid or limit foods high in saturated fat (more than 20% on the label).
  • Look on food labels for words like "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" -- these foods are loaded with saturated fats and trans-fatty acids and should be avoided.


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Review Date: 12/31/2012
Reviewed By: Glenn Gandelman, MD, MPH, FACC Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York Medical College; Private Practice specializing in Cardiovascular Disease in Greenwich, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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