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Sure Signs You Need to Have Your Cholesterol Checked Now

What to know about cholesterol and when to have it checked, according to MD. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Our cholesterol level isn't something most of us think about, but we should. Cholesterol has a direct impact on our well-being and can cause serious health issues if it's not under control. "Your cholesterol levels are essential to know and monitor for your overall health. Just as you know your social security number, you should be aware of your current cholesterol levels," Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies tells us.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "About 38% of American adults have high cholesterol (total blood cholesterol ≥ 200 mg/dL).1 Too much cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the United States." There's usually no signs of high cholesterol, which is why it's often called a 'silent killer,' and Dr. Mitchell explains when you should have it checked. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Why it's Important to Know Your Cholesterol Levels


Dr. Mitchell explains, "Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood. Too much cholesterol in your blood can lead to heart disease, stroke, or serious health problems. You can have your cholesterol levels checked with a simple blood test. Your doctor can use this information to help you make lifestyle changes or start the medication to improve your cholesterol levels."


Why is High Cholesterol Dangerous?

Cholesterol test

According to Dr. Mitchell, "High cholesterol is a dangerous condition because it increases the risk of heart disease. Cholesterol is a type of fat that is found in the blood. When there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it can build up on the walls of the arteries. This build-up is called plaque. Plaque can narrow the arteries and make it difficult for blood to flow through them. When this happens, the heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Over time, plaque can harden and rupture. If this happens, a blood clot can form. If the clot blocks an artery that supplies blood to the heart, it can cause a heart attack. Therefore, it is important to maintain a healthy level of cholesterol to reduce the risk of heart disease."


Risk Factors for High Cholesterol

man eating a burger

"There are a number of risk factors for high cholesterol," says Dr. Mitchell. "Genetics, age, and lifestyle choices can all contribute to high cholesterol levels. For instance, people with a family history of high cholesterol are more likely to have high cholesterol themselves. Similarly, as people age, their cholesterol levels tend to rise. Finally, lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise can also impact cholesterol levels. Eating a diet high in saturated fats and trans fats can increase cholesterol levels, while being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight can help to keep cholesterol in check. Anyone who is concerned about their cholesterol levels should talk to their doctor to discuss the best way to manage their risk factors."


Get Your Cholesterol Checked if You Have High Blood Pressure

Senior female gynecologist checking woman with blood pressure gauge in hospital.

Dr. Mitchell states, "High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition in which the force of your blood against the walls of your arteries is higher than it should be. This extra force can damage your artery walls and lead to health problems, such as heart disease. Having high blood pressure is a sign that you may also have high cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your blood. Like high blood pressure, high cholesterol can damage your artery walls and lead to health problems. That's why it's important to get your cholesterol checked if you have high blood pressure. Your doctor can prescribe medication to help lower your cholesterol levels. He or she may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and getting more exercise."


You Have Diabetes

Senior woman checking her blood glucose level.

Dr. Mitchell shares, "Diabetes is a disorder characterized by high levels of sugar in the blood. People with diabetes are at increased risk for a number of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. One of the ways that diabetes can increase the risk for these conditions is by affecting the levels of cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol is a type of fat that helps to build and maintain cell membranes. It is also used by the body to make hormones and other substances. When levels of cholesterol are too high, it can build up in the arteries, causing atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. This can lead to a heart attack or stroke. In people with diabetes, cholesterol levels are often higher than normal. For this reason, it is important for people with diabetes to have their cholesterol checked regularly so that any potential problems can be detected and treated early."


You Have a Family History of High Cholesterol or Heart Disease

happy family on couch

According to Dr. Mitchell, "Having a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol is a sign that you may be at increased risk for developing the same condition. While lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise play a role in cholesterol levels, genetics can also play a role. If you have a family member with heart disease or high cholesterol, it's important to get your cholesterol checked so that you can take steps to prevent the condition. In addition to regular check-ups with your doctor, there are several things you can do to keep your cholesterol in check. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco products can all help to lower your risk for heart disease. If you have a family history of the condition, getting your cholesterol checked is an important step in maintaining your health."


You're a Smoker

Hand stubbed out cigarette in a transparent ashtray on wooden table

Dr. Mitchell reveals, "Smoking is well-known to be harmful to one's health, but did you know that it can also increase your risk of high cholesterol? When you smoke, the chemicals in tobacco damage the lining of your arteries. This damage makes it easier for fatty deposits to build up, which can narrow or block your arteries. This increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. In addition, smoking damages the good cholesterol (HDL) that helps remove plaque from your arteries. So if you're a smoker, it's important to get your cholesterol checked so you can take steps to reduce your risk of heart disease."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather