Nearly 94 million adults in the United States have what's considered high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"High cholesterol … has been repeatedly shown and consistently linked to heart disease, hardening of the arteries, accumulation of plaque, so it's a major major risk factor for heart disease,” said Dr. Elizabeth Klodas, a practicing preventive cardiologist and founder of Step One Foods, a food company focused on lowering cholesterol.
High cholesterol levels raise your risk for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and for stroke, which is the fifth leading cause of death, according to the CDC.
A new study published this month also found a potential link between cholesterol levels and possible risk for dementia.
Having high cholesterol can make itself known in physical ways such as shortness of breath, chest pain with activity, or visible cholesterol deposits around the eyelids and tendons.
"It could be a sudden out of the blue event like heart attack and strokes from cholesterol deposits," Dr. Klodas said.
These signs mean you've had high cholesterol for a long time, she said.
So how can you detect high cholesterol before it’s a major problem?
“The best way to know whether or not you have high cholesterol is to get tested. You need a blood test, you can’t feel this until it's incredibly advanced,” Dr. Klodas said.
The earlier you are made aware, the greater impact it will have over your lifetime.
"Get your cholesterol checked at least once in your teens, twice in your 20s, three times in your 30s, four times in your 40s, five times in your 50s, and then yearly thereafter, and that's assuming your cholesterol stays perfect," she said.
Dr. Klodas encourages people with high cholesterol to consider food as an option to lower it.
“You can see significant improvements in cholesterol measurements with very tiny dietary changes and those small LDL [low-density lipoprotein] reductions translate into huge reductions in risk,” she said. One percent LDL reduction equals 1% reduction in cardiovascular risk.
"It's not about being on the greatest combination of the latest drugs. It's how you live, it's whether you exercise, it's what you eat, those are the biggest factors driving outcomes," she said.
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