Everything you Need to Know about Cholesterol

Is Your Cholesterol Harming Your Health?

We routinely hear about high cholesterol and how it can be detrimental to your heart health. What does that really mean? How high is “too” high?

Katie Van Hoveln, family medicine provider at Riverside’s Watseka campus, offers important information about cholesterol levels and how they impact one’s overall health.

What Exactly Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all the cells of the human body. The body uses it to make hormones, vitamin D, and other substances required to properly digest food. Cholesterol is made naturally by the body, but it is also found in certain foods such as eggs, full-fat dairy, red meat, and processed foods.

Katie Van Hoveln, NP-C

There are two main types of cholesterol: HDL (high-density lipoproteins) and LDL (low-density lipoproteins). HDL is considered the “good” type of cholesterol, while LDL is the detrimental kind.

“LDL is the one that can lead to buildup of plaque in our arteries. Plaque causes conditions like heart disease,” states Van Hoveln.

Addressing Risk Factors

Risk factors for high cholesterol fall into four primary categories:

  • Unhealthy eating habits, such as consuming a lot of processed foods, saturated fats, and trans fats
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Family history/genetics

“Of course, genetics is something we can’t necessarily control,” notes Van Hoveln.

Given the other risk factors, however, there are strategies individuals can take to reduce the likelihood of developing high cholesterol. For example, avoiding processed foods and eating a diverse diet of fresh fruits and vegetables. Maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise is also important. Finally, quitting smoking can have a significant impact on cholesterol reduction.

When Does Medication Enter the Picture?

If a person is doing all of the above and cholesterol remains high, it may be time to discuss medication options. The most common class of cholesterol medications are statins.

“Your provider will talk to you about a 10-year risk of heart attack and stroke. If that risk is above 7.5%, they’re most likely going to recommend a medication along with lifestyle changes,” explains Van Hoveln. “That’s something you can discuss with your provider once they get your lipid panel back.”

A big misconception Van Hoveln often hears is that statins are not safe. This is a false statement. Statins my cause muscle pain in some individuals, but for many people they produce no side effects.

“You can always talk to your provider about the pain you’re experiencing, and we can try a different type of statin medication. A lot of times, that’s the only thing we need to change, and then you’re able to take the statin without any issues,” she assures.

Screening Recommendations

High cholesterol does not present with symptoms, so it’s important to undergo regular blood screenings to detect a potential problem. This involves a simple blood draw that is then analyzed by the lab. It’s important to visit with your primary care provider to understand how often is appropriate to be screened for high cholesterol, based on age, lifestyle, and hereditary risk.

“Make sure that you have a PCP, a primary care provider, who you can talk with and who you trust. See if they would recommend screening now or if they have a plan for it in the future. That can open up the door and ensure you’re screened at the appropriate time,” advises Van Hoveln. “If your relatives were diagnosed with high cholesterol at a younger age, you’re going to want to talk to your provider about that and see if you can be screened even earlier.”

To learn more or to schedule an appointment with a Riverside Medical Group primary care provider at riversidehealthcare.org/primarycare