Q: Why is it important to know and manage your total cholesterol?
The risk of coronary heart disease rises as blood cholesterol levels increase. When other risk factors are present, this risk increases even more.

Cholesterol is a necessary component of our bodies, but additional dietary cholesterol is not needed. Excess cholesterol in the blood stream can form a thick, hard deposit called plaque in the artery walls. This build-up causes arteries to become thicker, harder and less flexible. When blood flow is restricted, chest pain called angina can result. When blood flow to the heart is severely restricted and a clot stops the flow completely, a heart attack results.

Q: What should my total cholesterol level be?
A: Medical experts recommend that total cholesterol levels be less than 200 mg/dL in order for an individual to be at lower risk for heart disease. Borderline high cholesterol is 200 to 239 mg/dL; high blood cholesterol is 240 mg/dL and above. A person with this level has more than twice the risk of heart disease as someone whose cholesterol is below 200 mg/dL.

Q: What's the difference in "good" versus "bad" cholesterol?
A: About one-fourth to one-third of blood cholesterol is carried by high density lipoprotien (HDL). Often called the "good" cholesterol, high levels of HDL seem to protect against heart attack because it carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver where it is passed from the body. Optimal HDL levels are 40 mg/dL and higher.

When too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the artery walls that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, it can form artery-clogging plaque that can eventually cause a heart attack or stroke. LDL cholesterol of less than 130 mg/dL is the optimal level for most people.

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