September is National Cholesterol Education Month, a good time to get your blood cholesterol checked and take steps to lower it if it is high. Did you know children, young adults and older Americans can have high cholesterol? So, what is cholesterol? And what does it mean to have high cholesterol? How can high cholesterol cause health problems? How can it be prevented?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your body and many foods. Our bodies need cholesterol to function normally and naturally makes all that we need of the "good" cholesterol. However, too much "bad" cholesterol can build up in our arteries and cause plaque. Plaque narrows the arteries and may develop into a blood clot, which makes it difficult for blood to flow freely through the narrowed pathways or which may go into the heart or brain causing a heart attack or stroke.
More than 102 million American adults (20 years or older) have total cholesterol levels at or above 200 mg/dL, which is above healthy levels. And in the United States, according to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, more than 20% of youth aged 12–19 have at least one abnormal lipid level.
High cholesterol usually doesn't have any symptoms. As a result, many people do not know their cholesterol levels are too high. However, doctors can do a simple blood test to check cholesterol. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends adults 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every 5 years. Children over the age of 2 who are overweight/obese, have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or certain chronic conditions should have their cholesterol levels checked.
What Can I Do to Lower or Prevent High Cholesterol?
For more information about cholesterol, visit www.cdc.gov/cholesterol
*There are specific recommendations for people at increased risk, such as those with a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, which may warrant more frequent checks.