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Do you know your number?

Published September 24. 2012 05:05PM

Do you know what your cholesterol numbers are? If you haven't had your blood cholesterol checked in the past five years, it's time to do so.

"It's important to know what your numbers are," said Toni Gibson, a registered nurse with Blue Mountain Health System.

"High cholesterol is one of the risk factors for heart attack and stroke, and cholesterol is one of the risk factors that we can control. Coronary heart disease is the top cause of death in the U.S. and it has been for some time."

When it comes to understanding your blood cholesterol numbers, keep a few key terms in mind:

LDL "Bad cholesterol"

Low density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol throughout the body, moving it to where you need it most.

But if you have a high LDL, these cholesterol carriers will deposit cholesterol into your bloodstream leading to clogged and narrow arteries, possible chest pain (angina), and heart attack or stroke.

Aim to keep your LDL below 100. Adults with other risk factors for heart disease may be asked to keep their LDL below 70.

HDL "Good cholesterol"

High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) carry cholesterol out of the blood stream and back to the liver, where it can be removed from the body. This "good" cholesterol can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease.

An HDL level above 50 or 60 is considered ideal. Men with an HDL level below 35, and women with a level below 40, are at increased risk of heart disease.

Total cholesteroland ratios

Total cholesterol, the amount of both "good" and "bad" cholesterol, should be below 200.

But it's not enough to know your total, good, and bad cholesterol numbers, said Gibson. Doctors today want to compare these numbers in a "total cholesterol to HDL ratio," which reveals whether a patient's higher total cholesterol number is a potential problem.

To find this number, doctors divide total cholesterol by HDL. A healthy ratio is 5:1 or lower.

For example, an adult with a total cholesterol of 240 (considered high) and an HDL of 60 (ideal) would have a cholesterol ratio of 4:1. The patient's high HDL is able to compensate for higher-than-ideal total cholesterol.

A person with a total cholesterol of 200 (normal) and an HDL of 34 (lower than ideal) would have a ratio of 6:1.

In this case, a normal total cholesterol may be hiding health problems because of the low HDL numbers.

"Your doctor may not put you on cholesterol-lowering medication, even if your cholesterol is higher," said Gibson.

"He's watching that ratio and taking it into consideration. You have to take both numbers into account when evaluating your cholesterol."

To learn more about cholesterol or to have your cholesterol levels checked, consider attending a local health fair.

Blue Mountain Health System will offer two health fairs in the upcoming weeks: on Oct. 17 from 10 a.m. until noon at West End Physical Therapy in Kresgeville; and through New Seasons on Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Recreation Center in Lehighton.

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