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The basics of cholesterol

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As cholesterol can be good and bad, it’s important to know what it is and what can happen if you have high cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, fat-like substance found in all animal and human tissue. The body uses cholesterol to make vitamins and hormones to keep us going.

“All of us have cholesterol; it is an essential part of our bodies,” says Juan Castro, M.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy. “High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors leading to heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure.”

Most individuals with high cholesterol levels never report any symptoms, Dr. Castro says, so it’s important to seek out a cholesterol test if you have concerns. A cholesterol test (also called a lipid panel) is a blood test done on a fasting basis that determines your total cholesterol level, which then is divided into good and bad cholesterol.

Upon completing a cholesterol test, patients with high levels should immediately consult their clinician and/or pharmacist for treatment options.

“The most effective treatment suggested to patients with high cholesterol levels is to change to a healthy lifestyle.” Dr. Castro says. This lifestyle change includes switching to a low-fat diet and eating more fruits, vegetables, fish, and grilled or baked chicken. Also avoid fried foods and pork, and consume less red meat.

Other treatment options are weight loss, implementing exercise into your daily routine and stopping smoking if you do.

If you continue to have high cholesterol levels after these treatment options, inquire with your clinician about adding medication to help lower your levels. While taking medication, patients should be monitored closely by their physician to ensure there are no side effects and the dosage is appropriate.

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