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Cholesterol is a type of fat found in the blood. It’s not all bad. In fact, your body needs some kinds of cholesterol. The problem, though, with having high levels of cholesterol in the blood is the potential increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Understanding the risks and causes of high cholesterol and how regularly scheduled check-ups and exams can help prevent and treat this condition could save your life.

There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is considered “good” cholesterol because it helps remove LDL, also known as “bad” cholesterol, from the bloodstream. When you have too much LDL in the blood, it can build up in the arteries and form plaque, which can lead to atherosclerosis—a condition in which the arteries become narrow and hardened. This, of course, increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Several risk factors can contribute to high cholesterol, including genetics, age, diet, and lifestyle. Consuming a diet high in saturated and trans fats, smoking, and being sedentary can all increase the risk of high cholesterol.

Regularly scheduled check-ups and exams are crucial in detecting and treating high cholesterol. A lipid panel blood test can measure the levels of LDL, HDL, and triglycerides, another type of fat in the blood. Based on the results of the blood test, your healthcare provider can provide recommendations for lifestyle changes and medication, if necessary.

Lifestyle changes that can help lower cholesterol levels include eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, reducing saturated and trans fats, quitting smoking, and engaging in regular exercise.

Medications, such as statins, can also be prescribed to lower cholesterol levels. Statins work by blocking an enzyme in the liver that produces cholesterol, resulting in lower levels of LDL in the bloodstream.

High cholesterol is a serious condition. Regularly check-ups can help detect and treat high cholesterol, reducing the risk of complications. Eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise, can also help lower cholesterol levels. By taking preventative measures and seeking treatment, you can improve your overall health and live a healthy life.