MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. -- Northern Westchester Hospital's Chief of Cardiology, Dr. Robert Pilchik explains cholesterol and offers tips to help maintain healthy cholesterol numbers.
First, a short review of cholesterol basics: The two types of cholesterol in your body – low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – behave totally differently. Over time, excess LDL in your body, largely from fatty foods you eat, builds up in your artery walls as hard plaque, narrowing these vessels and restricting blood flow to your heart and brain.
This condition, atherosclerosis, is the leading cause of heart attack and stroke. By contrast, HDL acts as a vacuum, ridding the arterial walls of cholesterol and flushing it from the body.
Because it’s very common to experience no symptoms while your arteries are already badly blocked, it is a potentially life-saving measure to get regularly tested for cholesterol levels. Over time, your test results give you and your physician clues as to the health of these essential arteries.
Sound familiar? You get blood work done, and are given a number for “total” cholesterol. You’re told that a total more than 200 is worrisome. However, the total cholesterol figure commonly given patients is actually a very deceptive number. It can mean different things in different situations. That’s why I’m primarily concerned with your numbers for LDL and HDL cholesterol.
Now you know why you should always ask your physician for the breakdown of test results for your LDL and HDL cholesterol levels.
Your total cholesterol number is actually a formula that includes HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and a certain fraction of the level of your triglycerides. Taken together, these three numbers form your “lipid (fat) profile.” Triglycerides are part of what remains when your body breaks down the fats you eat.
Read part two of a three-part series on the Northern Westchester Hospital blog.