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Controlling Cholesterol Can Mean Life or Death
What you don’t know can hurt you. Finding out your
cholesterol levels is important and ensuring you maintain healthy cholesterol
levels can mean life or death. High cholesterol is a leading cause for stroke
and heart attack.
Cholesterol is soft waxy fat found in the bloodstream and
your body’s cells. Cholesterol is also found in some foods, such as eggs, meats
and dairy products. The body needs cholesterol to form cell membranes, some
hormones and vitamin D. However, cholesterol or plaque build-up in the arteries
can block normal blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke. High cholesterol
can also increase the risk of heart disease, a risk factor for stroke.
Because cholesterol does not dissolve in the blood on its
own, it must be carried to and from cells by particles called lipoproteins.
There are two main types of lipoproteins.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), often called "bad
cholesterol," can cause plaque Ñ a thick, hard substance Ñ to build up and
clog arteries. High levels of LDL and triglycerides (blood fats) can increase
the risk of ischemic stroke. They also can bring on a transient ischemic attack
(TIA), called a mini-stroke, where stroke symptoms often go away within 24
High-density lipoproteins (HDL), often called "good"
cholesterol, can reduce stroke risk. HDL filters cholesterol out of the body by
carrying it away from the tissues to the liver. High levels of HDL might
protect against stroke and heart attack.
Many things can affect cholesterol levels. Some can be
changed and some cannot.
Things you can change:
- Diet - Foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol can
increase cholesterol levels.
- Weight - Being overweight can increase your cholesterol
- Exercise - People who are not active tend to have higher
Things you cannot change:
- Family History - If someone in your family has high
cholesterol, you are more likely to have high cholesterol.
- Age - Most people experience an increase in cholesterol levels
until about the age of 65.
- Gender - Women under 50 tend to have lower cholesterol and
those in menopause have higher levels.
People older than age 20 should have their cholesterol
checked at least once every five years. Men older than 45, women over 55,
people with a family history of high cholesterol and those who know they have
high cholesterol should be checked more often.
Consult with your health care provider about your
cholesterol levels. If diet and exercise don’t lower your cholesterol to
healthy levels, your physician can prescribe medications that can help.
For more information on managing your cholesterol levels, visit stroke.org/cholesterol
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