Cholesterol is a waxy substance that comes from two sources: your body and food. Your body, and especially your liver, makes all the cholesterol you need and circulates it through the blood. But cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Your liver produces more cholesterol when you eat a diet high in saturated and trans fats.

Excess cholesterol can form plaque between layers of artery walls, making it harder for your heart to circulate blood. Plaque can break open and cause blood clots. If a clot blocks an artery that feeds the brain, it causes a stroke. If it blocks an artery that feeds the heart, it causes a heart attack. The providers at Alpharetta and Cumming Internal Medicine can help you get your cholesterol under control and teach you how to monitor your life to prevent heart disease.

Types of Cholesterol

There are two types of cholesterol: “good” and “bad.” Too much of one type — or not enough of another — can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke. It’s important to know the levels of  cholesterol in your blood so that you and your doctor can determine the best strategy to lower your risk.

  • LDL (Bad) Cholesterol: LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, heart attack or stroke can result. Another condition called peripheral artery disease can develop when plaque buildup narrows an artery supplying blood to the legs.
  • HDL (Good) Cholesterol: HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries. Experts believe HDL acts as a scavenger, carrying LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is broken down and passed from the body. One-fourth to one-third of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL. A healthy level of HDL cholesterol may also protect against heart attack and stroke, while low levels of HDL cholesterol  have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are another type of fat, and they’re used to store excess energy from your diet. High levels of triglycerides in the blood are associated with atherosclerosis. Elevated triglycerides can be caused by overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption and a diet very high in carbohydrates (more than 60 percent of total calories). Underlying diseases or genetic disorders are sometimes the cause of high triglycerides. People with high triglycerides often have a high total cholesterol level, including a high LDL cholesterol (bad) level and a low HDL cholesterol (good) level. Many people with heart disease or diabetes also have high triglyceride levels.
  • Lp(a) Cholesterol: Lp(a) is a genetic variation of LDL (bad) cholesterol. A high level of Lp(a) is a significant risk factor for the premature development of fatty deposits in arteries. Lp(a) isn’t fully understood, but it may interact with substances found in artery walls and contribute to the buildup of fatty deposits.

Symptoms of High Cholesterol

Many people do not know their cholesterol is too high because there are usually no symptoms. That’s why it is important to have your cholesterol levels checked by your doctor. Talk with your provider about assessing your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Cholesterol levels are an important factor in estimating your personal risk. Visit Alpharetta and Cumming Internal Medicine to create an action plan that will help you make important lifestyle changes. Sometimes, medication is needed in addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Cholesterol Levels

Total Cholesterol LDL HDL Triglycerides
Good: 200 mg/dL or lower Good: 100 mg/dL or lower Good: 40 mg/dL or higher Good: 149 mg/dL or lower
Borderline: 200 to 239 mg/dL Borderline: 130 to 159 mg/dL Low: 39 mg/dL or lower Borderline: 150 to 199 mg/dL
High: 240 mg/dL or higher High: 160 mg/dL or higher High: 200 mg/dL or higher

Are You at Risk?

LDL (bad) cholesterol is produced naturally by the body, but many people inherit genes from their mother, father or even grandparents that cause them to make too much. Eating foods with saturated fat or trans fats also increases the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood. If high blood cholesterol runs in your family, lifestyle modifications may not be enough to help lower your LDL blood cholesterol.

Alpharetta and Cumming Internal Medicine has experienced staff and physicians who can help you live your life to its fullest. If you live north of Atlanta in Roswell, Woodstock, Johns Creek, Suwanee or Canton, you are just a short distance from the best primary care in Georgia. Call us at 770/475-2377 to schedule an appointment today!