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The Lowdown on High Cholesterol

Contrary to what you may think, cholesterol isn't all bad. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that circulates in your blood. It is a naturally occurring compound, produced primarily in the liver, that's present in all your cell membranes and many hormones. Cholesterol can come from both your body as well as the foods you eat. It is essential for maintaining good health and is necessary for rapid conduction of nerve impulses and other functions. However, too much of the wrong kind of cholesterol can cause health problems.

"High cholesterol" has no symptoms, but is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Cholesterol travels in the blood stream attached to lipoproteins, clusters of proteins linked together. The two most common are low-density lipoproteins (LDL, or "bad cholesterol") and high-density lipoproteins (HDL, or "good cholesterol"). A blood test called a lipid profile reports the total cholesterol level as well as LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels. If too much LDL cholesterol accumulates in your blood stream, it can slowly build up in your arteries, causing them to narrow or harden. Ultimately, this could increase your risk of heart disease.

Before you can begin to manage your cholesterol, you need to know what your levels are. Your doctor will determine these levels by performing a simple blood test. If your numbers aren't where they should be, there are several lifestyle changes you can make to help you manage your cholesterol, including diet, exercise, and talking to your doctor about medications. Quitting smoking, getting sufficient sleep, and managing stress can also help you maintain control of your cholesterol. Determining your cholesterol numbers helps you and your doctor make a plan to correct any issues you are having.

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