Not having enough good cholesterol (HDL) and having too much bad cholesterol (LDL) can put you at risk for heart disease, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. There are some risk factors you can’t do anything about, such as age or family history. But there are things you can do to help improve your cholesterol levels:
• Know your risk. High cholesterol is often called a “silent disease” because there are no major symptoms. Major risk factors include diabetes, premature coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and cigarette smoking. Men age 45 and older and women age 55 and over are also at high risk.
• Get tested. If you’re at high risk or over the age of 20, talk to your doctor about a cholesterol screening.
• Set a goal. The ideal LDL for a high-risk patient is < 100 mg/dL. Work with your doctor to decide on an appropriate cholesterol goal and come up with a plan to manage your levels.
• Lead a healthy lifestyle. Improve your diet by avoiding foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat, increase exercise, maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking, and take your medication correctly.
• Practice good oral hygiene and see a dentist regularly. Patients with poor oral hygiene may have up to twice the risk of having a heart attack.
It is estimated that 25 percent of people who should be taking statins, or cholesterol-lowering drugs, do not take them. Studies have shown 20 percent to 60 percent lower LDL cholesterol levels in people who take statins. Speak to your physician about the possibility of taking a generic drug — they cost much less and are often just as effective.
When blood pressure is high, your heart must work harder to move blood through your body. Over time, this can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, heart attack, stroke, blindness, or kidney disease.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, often has few symptoms. One in three adults has it, but many don’t know it. The only way to know if your blood pressure is in a healthy range (120/80 for most people) is to have it checked regularly by your doctor.
Hypertension is caused by a number of factors. Some, like genetics, cannot be controlled. However, there are many risk factors you can change to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
• Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid foods high in sodium, fat, and cholesterol. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
• Increase your physical activity. Exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days. Exercise can even come in the form of routine chores, like yard work or walking your dog.
• Maintain a healthy weight. Losing excess weight can reduce unnecessary stress on the heart, which can help alleviate many heart conditions.
• Avoid alcohol and smoking. More than one to two drinks per day can increase fat levels in the blood. Smoking cigarettes constricts and damages blood vessels.
• Reduce your stress. A strong emotional reaction to a stressful event is a common trigger for heart attacks. Learn to stay calm during stressful times.
If changing your lifestyle habits doesn’t reduce your blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medication. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor if you have questions or experience adverse side effects; many options are available and they may be able to prescribe another medication.
Know your blood pressure numbers. This could save your life.
• High blood pressure (hypertension): 140/90 or above
• Borderline high blood pressure (pre-hypertension): 120/80 to 139/89
• Healthy blood pressure: Below 120/80