More than 102 million American adults have total cholesterol levels that are above healthy levels. More than 35 million of these people have dangerous levels that put them at high risk for heart disease. In order to raise awareness, September has been declared National Cholesterol Education Month. In honor of this month, UAB Medical West would like to remind the community get their blood cholesterol checked and take steps to lower it if it is high.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and found in certain foods, such as from animals, like dairy products, eggs, and meat. The body needs some cholesterol in order to function properly. However, too much cholesterol can increase a person's risk of developing heart disease. There are several factors that contribute to high cholesterol -- some are controllable while others are not. Some of the non-controllable factors include age (men above age 45 and women above age 55), gender (women are at higher risk after menopause), and a family history of high cholesterol. Controllable factors include eating a high fat diet, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise.
High cholesterol usually doesn't have any symptoms. As a result, many people do not know that their cholesterol levels are too high. It is recommended that adults age 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every 5 years.  The screening test that is usually performed is a blood test called a lipoprotein profile. Experts recommend that men aged 35 and older and women age 45 and older be routinely screened for lipid disorders. The lipoprotein profile includes:
·         LDL (low density lipoprotein cholesterol, also called "bad" cholesterol)
·         HDL (high density lipoprotein cholesterol, also called "good" cholesterol)
·         Triglycerides (fats carried in the blood from the food we eat. Excess calories, alcohol, or sugar in the body are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells throughout the body.
Your total blood cholesterol is a measure of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and other lipid components. Doctors recommend total cholesterol levels below 200.
If it is discovered that you have high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medications to lower it. In addition, you can lower your cholesterol levels through lifestyle changes including a diet of low fat and high fiber foods, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking.
If you believe you are at risk for high cholesterol, please schedule an appointment with your doctor to have it checked. To schedule an appointment with a UAB Medical West physician, please call 996-WEST.