February 10, 2009
Cholesterol: Good vs. Bad, What's a Good Number?
'Know Your Numbers' Series Part 2 -
February is Heart Month, and Dr. Dennis Norfleet, Public Health Director for the Oswego County Health Department, reminds us that high blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
Dr. Norfleet recommends that everyone know their levels of cholesterol.
“Latest studies show that 17 percent of adult Americans have high blood cholesterol,” said Dr. Norfleet. “High cholesterol shows no symptoms. Many people do not even know they have it.”
According to Dr. Norfleet, the most accurate profile of cholesterol is a complete fasting lipoprotein profile.
“This profile is going to look at your HDL (good cholesterol), your LDL (bad cholesterol), and your triglyceride level,” explained Dr. Norfleet. “An easy trick to remember the difference between the two is 'Healthy HDLs and Lousy LDLs.'”
Cholesterol is measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dl) of blood.
“It is best to have your total cholesterol 200 mg/dl or less,” added Dr. Norfleet. “This level puts you at a lowered risk for coronary heart disease. It's good to have higher levels of HDL. 60 mg/dl or above gives some added protection against heart disease.”
The average male ranges from 40 to 50 mg/dl, while females average 50 to 60 mg/dl. The optimal levels of LDL are less than 100 mg/dl. 100 mg/dl to 129 mg/dl is considered near optimal.
“Once you get higher than 129 you start to increase your risk for heart disease,” he explained. “Triglycerides should ideally be less than 150 mg/dl.”
If a person's total cholesterol falls between 200 and 239 mg/dl, they are considered to have borderline high risk for heart disease. Less than 40 mg/dl of HDL for men, and less than 50 mg/dl of HDL for women, make them at increased risk for heart disease.
“Your doctor may talk to you about changing your eating habits, including more healthy choices,” said Dr. Norfleet. “Participating in regular exercise activities and avoiding tobacco smoke are ways to help improve your cholesterol numbers.”
People who have a total cholesterol level of 240 mg/dl and above are considered high risk, and have twice the risk for coronary heart disease. In these cases, the doctor may prescribe a cholesterol-regulating medication.
“Making lifestyle changes, including a healthy heart diet, regular physical activity, and avoiding smoking will also help lower your cholesterol,” advises Dr. Norfleet. “It is best to speak with and follow your doctor's orders on what is the best plan for you.”
Health officials recommend that people have their cholesterol checked every five years. People at risk for high cholesterol and those who have high cholesterol may want it taken yearly.
“Remember, the most accurate testing of cholesterol is a fasting profile,” said Dr. Norfleet. “Make it your job to keep your numbers in order. You want to keep the Healthy HDLs up, and bring the Lousy LDLs down!”
The Health Department will continue its series of articles on “the numbers you need to know” over the next few months. For additional information, contact the Oswego County Health Department at 349-3547 or 1-800-596-3200, ext 3547.
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