Happy, Healthy Hearts
September is National Cholesterol Education Month. This is a good time to get your cholesterol checked and to take steps to lower it if it is high. Understanding cholesterol numbers can feel overwhelming, but knowing the values, and managing them is an important part of taking control of your heart health.
According to the American Heart Association, Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for 840,768 deaths in 2016.
What causes heart disease?
Coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. They are smooth and elastic, allowing blood to flow freely. Fat deposits can begin developing in the vessel walls early in life, sometimes even before our teen years. As we age, the fat builds up, causing injury to the blood vessel walls.
Atherosclerosis – a hardening and narrowing of the arteries -- gets a lot of bad press, with good reason. This progressive process silently and slowly blocks arteries, putting blood flow at risk. It starts as a result of elevated levels of cholesterol, causing deposits of fat in blood vessels that can lead to blockages. When a blood vessel is blocked, blood and oxygen cannot reach nearby tissue resulting in damage to these tissues. If the blockage occurs in a blood vessel serving the heart muscle, a heart attack can occur. If it occurs in a blood vessel serving the brain, a stroke can occur.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and found in certain foods, such as food from animals, like dairy products (whole milk), eggs, and meat. The body needs a small amount of cholesterol to function, and can actually make enough on its own. Our cell walls, or membranes, need cholesterol in order to produce hormones, vitamin D, and the bile acids that help to digest fat. Cholesterol is a major component of the plaque that clogs arteries. When too much is present, health problems such as coronary heart disease may develop.
Take control of your heart health now by following these steps:
1. Never miss your annual physical. This is a great time to get lab work drawn, and have your numbers evaluated by a physician.
2. Make healthy food choices. Limit your intake of saturated fats, and instead choose foods naturally high in fiber and unsaturated fats.
3. Stay active every day. Find opportunities to move throughout the day. It is recommended adults get at least 150 of moderate intensity exercise weekly. That’s just 30 minutes, 5 times a week!
4. Quit smoking. Smoking damages your blood vessels, and hardens the arteries, which increase your risk for heart disease.
5. Talk with your healthcare provider. Your physician can accurately evaluate your risk and prescribe medication if needed.
6. Know your family history. Talk openly with your family and note if high cholesterol runs in your family (parents or immediate family members). Knowing your risk means you can better manage your cholesterol.
7. Take your medication as prescribed. If your doctor prescribes a medication to lower your cholesterol, take it as directed and do not stop taking it without first consulting your doctor. Never hesitate to ask questions about your medication.