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Can Heart Disease Be Prevented and Reversed?

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How Much Do You Know About Cholesterol?

When it comes to heart disease, people will naturally relate it either to high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol. But, how many of us really understand what cholesterol is, what its function is, and what causes it to be high.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that can be found in all parts of the body. It is an important component of cell membranes, which produce hormones and bile acids to digest fat. However, only a small amount of cholesterol is needed by the body.

If there is excess cholesterol in the blood, it can deposit in the walls of the arteries and cause a build-up. Over time, the arteries will get narrow and eventually blocked, which can lead heart disease.

High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Globally, heart disease remains as an important cause of death and disability.

Cholesterol does not mix with blood. It has to be carried in the bloodstream through packages called lipoproteins. There are 2 important types of lipoproteins that affect your risk for heart disease: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein).

HDL is what we called good cholesterol. It carries cholesterol in the blood, and back to the liver for it to be removed from the body. LDL is bad cholesterol as it deposits cholesterol and is responsible for its build-up and blockage in the arteries.

There are a number of reasons that can cause high cholesterol levels, namely

  • Diet that is high in saturated fat and cholesterol

  • Overweight

  • Lack of physical activity

  • Excessive alcohol intake

  • Familial hypercholesterolemia (hereditary disorder that causes high cholesterol and triglycerides)

  • Age and gender. Cholesterol levels rise with age, and menopausal women tend to have higher cholesterol levels.

There are no symptoms to show if a person has high or low cholesterol. It is therefore recommended that we should measure our cholesterol level at least once every 5 years, starting from the age of 20 and above. However, people with diabetes or heart disease should follow their doctors’ recommendation.

Cholesterol is measured by a blood test called “lipid profile”. It is taken after a 9 to 12 hour fast and gives us a breakdown of the different types of cholesterol and triglyceride. The following tables show the desirable values.

Lipid Test Desirable levels

Total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dl (5.17 mmol/L)
HDL more than 40 mg/dl (1.04 mmol/L)
LDL less than 130 mg/dl (3.38 mmol/L)
Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dl (1.69 mmol/L)

If a lipid profile cannot be done, the total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol measured by a simple blood test can still give us an estimate of our cholesterol levels. If the measured total cholesterol is 200 mg/dl or more or if the measured HDL is less than 40 mg/dl, we will need to consult our doctor and do a lipid test.



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