If you’ve said that you’re like many other Americans who share a concern about the risk of coronary heart disease. But if you’ve never quite gotten around to doing something about it, keep reading. You’ll find answer to some of the most common questions that people have about cholesterol, and what you can do to control it. Happily, you’ll find that taking control of cholesterol is a lot easier and better tasting than you thought!
Why is cholesterol suddenly such a big deal?
If you’ve noticed that cholesterol has received increased attention over the past few decades, you’re right. In 1985, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health launched the national Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP). The program’s goal is the reduction of illness and death from coronary heart disease (CHD) by reducing the number of Americans with high blood cholesterol. The impetus behind the NCEP was smoking-gun evidence that lowering high blood cholesterol reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. As a matter of fact, a one-percent decrease in cholesterol yields a two-percent decrease in the chance of a heart attack!
Surveys also indicated that neither physicians nor the general public were adequately informed about the relationship between cholesterol and CHD. This led to an aggressive strategy of public and professional education. So yes, you have been hearing more about cholesterol, because there’s a lot more to hear.
What is coronary heart disease?
Over time, cholesterol as well as other blood born substances deposits themselves on the interior walls of the coronary arteries. When this build-up restricts the flow of blood through the arteries, too little oxygen reaches the heart. At best, CHD victims suffer chest pain (angina); at worst, a deadly heart attack – the kind that accounts for 30 percent of nearly two million deaths in the United States each year.
While elevated levels of blood cholesterol seriously increase a person’s risk of CHD, tacking on smoking and high blood pressure, the other main risk factors, multiplies that risk.
How many Americans have high cholesterol?
The American Medical Association published these figures based on NCEP estimates: Thirty-six percent of Americans have cholesterol levels that are high enough to warrant being under the care of a physician. About 102 million Americans ages 20 years and older are candidates for medical advice and intervention for high levels of blood cholesterol.
On top of that, there are millions more who should take immediate steps to bring their blood cholesterol levels into the “desirable” range.
In other words, if your cholesterol level could stand some tinkering, you’ve got something in common with better than one-out-of-every-two Americans!
What role does age play?
If you are between the ages of 20 and 39, the likelihood is one-in-five that your cholesterol level is too high. That rate sterke sticker jumps to one-in-two between the ages of 40 and 59. Over the age of 60, there’s a 60-percent chance that you have a problem.
Should you be screened for high cholesterol?
If you’re over the age of 20 you should! The NCEP suggests that you have the test done at least once every five years.
Your initial evaluation will determine your total cholesterol level and assess risk factors such as cigarette smoking, blood pressure and your personal as well as family health history. Often, cholesterol screening is carried out during the course of a routine physical examination, but advances in finger-stick testing procedures (where the finger is pricked in order to draw a minute quantity of blood) make widespread initial screening in non-clinical settings a practical and convenient alternative. Borderline-high or high levels of blood cholesterol found using the finger-stick method should be confirmed by your family physician.