Do you have high cholesterol? Are you concerned about heart disease? High cholesterol isn’t something you can feel, but it’s a common health problem and a risk factor for heart disease.

Because February is American Heart Month, our certified family nurse practitioner, Yaminah Matthews, APRN, FNP-C, at Trinity Salem Family Health Clinic in Waxahachie, Texas, thinks this is a great time for you to learn how high cholesterol puts you at risk of heart disease and what you can do about it.

Cholesterol: What you need to know

Everyone has cholesterol. It’s a type of fat your body makes and uses to form cell membranes, make vitamin D, and create certain hormones.

While cholesterol is also found in foods like meat and cheese, your body makes all of the cholesterol it requires to perform the necessary functions. However, some people make too much cholesterol.

Eating foods high in certain types of fat — like the saturated fat found in marbled meat, butter, and whole milk — increases cholesterol production. Additionally, smoking, stress, and alcohol may cause your body to make too much cholesterol.

You can also inherit a gene that affects the body’s ability to remove cholesterol, leading to higher blood cholesterol levels.

High cholesterol and heart disease

When you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it combines with minerals and other substances to create plaque, which sticks to and collects on the walls of your arteries.

Over time, the plaque builds up, narrowing or blocking the movement of blood through your arteries, affecting the flow of blood to tissues and organs. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a type of heart disease that occurs from plaque buildup in the coronary artery, the major artery in your heart).

The plaque may also cause inflammation. The plaque in a blood vessel can break, and a blood clot can form that may block the flow of blood, causing a heart attack or stroke.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and nearly 40% of Americans 18 and older have high cholesterol. Are you at risk?

What you can do

You can’t feel when you have too much cholesterol in your blood. The only way to know you have high cholesterol is to get a blood test to check your levels.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults 20 and older have their cholesterol levels checked every 4-6 years. We screen for high cholesterol at your annual wellness exam and order lab work when it’s appropriate.

If you have high cholesterol, we create a plan to lower your numbers. Making lifestyle changes is one of the best things you can do to lower your cholesterol and your risk for heart disease:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating foods high in fiber
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Sleeping at least 7 hours a night

We provide chronic disease management for high cholesterol, helping you make the necessary lifestyle changes that benefit your health. We also recheck your cholesterol numbers to monitor your progress.

If your cholesterol remains high after implementing changes for a healthier lifestyle, we may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications for extra help.

Taking care of your heart health

High cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease, but you can take steps to lower your numbers and improve heart health.

If high cholesterol or heart disease runs in your family, American Heart Month is an excellent time to take action. Let us help you get the answers and support you need. Call our office today or request an appointment online. We offer in-office and telehealth appointments.

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