Bad Cholesterol: What it Says About Your Risk of Heart Attack
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in every four deaths in the U.S. is caused by heart disease or heart attack.
One of the most effective ways to reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke is keeping your LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) often called bad cholesterol, number within the healthy range.
What is bad cholesterol?
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are particles in the blood that carry cholesterol to different parts of the body to perform vital functions, including providing proper salt and water balance, hormone production, and digestion of the food you eat.
When your LDL-C number is too high, you’re at increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Your doctor can order cholesterol blood testing to see if you are at increased risk for these problems.
Ask your doctor about how to lower your risk factors.
“The focus should be on lowering your LDL-C using guideline-based approaches,” says Carl E. Orringer, M.D., a cardiologist with the University of Miami Health System.
These heart-healthy changes include:
- eating a healthy diet rich in fiber and nutrients and low in saturated/trans fats and sugar
- getting regular cardio exercise
- quitting smoking
- controlling high blood pressure with medication and/or weight and stress management
If your doctor determines that you have a high risk for heart attack and stroke, you may qualify for treatment with UHealth’s Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine Program. Led by Dr. Orringer, this program helps patients prevent a first heart attack and lower their risk for life-threatening secondary attacks and strokes. The program’s multidisciplinary team of health care providers helps identify each patient’s specific disorder then provides guideline-based care to effectively and safely reduce those risks.
“With very few exceptions, adults with a history of heart attack, coronary stents, coronary bypass surgery, strokes, or blocked arteries in the legs should be taking cholesterol-lowering medications called statins,” Dr. Orringer says. This includes patients with very high LDL-C (190 or greater) and adults with diabetes.
If you have none of these risk factors, your doctor can use a risk calculator to assess your risk for heart attack and stroke over the next 10 years. If that risk is statistically high, you may also benefit from taking a statin.
“You should take the statin every day because there is no day that it is less important to protect against heart attack and stroke,” Dr. Orringer says. “Don’t stop taking the medicine because the risk will increase back to baseline.”
Lifestyle changes are key to protecting your heart
“Quitting smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, and getting regular aerobic exercise underlie all medical treatment to protect against heart attack and stroke,” Dr. Orringer says. “These efforts can lower LDL-C, whether or not you’re taking a statin.
“Don’t assume that a statin medication takes the place of a healthy diet. The medicine and healthy lifestyle choices work together.”
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.