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High Cholesterol Management

What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease and High Cholesterol?

Patient Comments
  • It is possible to minimize the risk of heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in the United States. High blood cholesterol can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack, transient ischemic attack (TIA), stroke, and peripheral artery disease; keeping cholesterol levels in the normal range can decrease the risk of these diseases.
  • Lifestyle changes can let you take control of your heart health, and managing your cholesterol level is one such important lifestyle change. Other risk factors that can also be controlled include maintaining normal blood pressure, exercising, keeping your weight within normal limits, quitting smoking, and controlling diabetes and stress.
  • While one cannot control risk factors like age and family history of heart disease or stroke, it is possible to minimize the other risk factors to live a longer and healthier life.
  • Knowing your cholesterol number is a good first step in reducing risk. These include total cholesterol, HDL (high density lipoprotein or good cholesterol), LDL (low density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels. Together they are part of a blood screening test called a lipoprotein analysis and can give direction to you and your health-care professional about the potential need to control cholesterol levels.
  • If a person's cholesterol levels are normal, but they have other risk factors for heart attack or stroke, they still may want to lower their cholesterol levels further.
  • Diet and exercise are strategies to use to lower your cholesterol before cholesterol-lowering medications are prescribed.

Where Can You Get Your Cholesterol Tested?

Measuring your cholesterol involves taking a sample of blood. Often your health-care professional will recommend and arrange these tests during an office visit, although it is best to have the blood drawn after fasting for 14-16 hours.

Cholesterol screening opportunities are often available in the community such as:

  • Screenings held in shopping centers
  • Community health fairs
  • Neighborhood medical clinics
  • Home testing devices
  • Work site testing

What Do the Cholesterol Numbers Mean (Chart)?

Making Sense of Your Cholesterol Count*
Type of FatBadBetterDesirable
Total Blood Cholesterol240 mg/dL** and above needs evaluation of HDL and LDL levels200-239 is borderline high200 and less; 150 is ideal
HDL40 mg/dL or less45 for men; 55 for women60 or more
LDL190 mg/dL or more considered very high; 160-189 considered high130-159 is borderline high100-129 is nearly the best; under 100 is ideal
Triglycerides500 mg/dL or more is very high; 200-499 is considered high150-199 is borderline highUnder 150 is normal

*From the revised guidelines ATP III, National Institutes of Health **mg/dL means milligrams per deciliter of blood

How Do I Lower My Cholesterol Through Exercise?

Regular aerobic exercise helps lower cholesterol levels as well as control high blood pressure, diabetes, and body weight. While most health organizations recommend 30 minutes a day of some type of exercise, the bottom line is that more is probably better, but some is still better than none.

Many people get their exercise at work performing manual labor but may not have much aerobic exercise. Exercise comes in many forms and keeping the body moving is an important part of maintaining physical conditioning as well as good bone density, muscle flexibility, and joint function. Many people get their exercise at work performing manual labor but may not have much aerobic exercise.

How Much Exercise Do I Need?

Walking 2 miles in 30 minutes 3 times a week constitutes a moderate level of aerobic exercise. That may be enough to raise your HDL cholesterol by 1 to 3 points (higher is better) and lower your LDL cholesterol (lower is better).

If you can't get in a 30-minute block of exercise all at once, do a few minutes of exercise here and there throughout the day (climb the stairs at work, walk around the block on your lunch break, park and walk). Researchers have demonstrated that exercise even without weight loss can have a positive impact on improving cholesterol levels. It is the amount of activity, and not necessarily any changes in fitness or intensity of exercise that is important for cholesterol improvement and decreasing the risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/16/2016

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about High Cholesterol Management:

Cholesterol Management - Changes in Your Lifestyle

What lifestyle changes have been successful at lowering your cholesterol?

Cholesterol Management - Diet

How do you manage your cholesterol through your diet?

The Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health

The Mediterranean diet lets you eat rich-tasting foods such as roasted sweet potatoes, hummus, and lima bean spread. Greek meals are often small, easily assembled plates called mezzes. For your own serve-it-cold casual meal, you could put out plates of cheese, olives, and nuts.


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

High HDL Cholesterol (Hyperalphalipoproteinemia) »

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is positively associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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