February is Heart Month

Claudia Rivera, MD

February is Heart Month

New York Primary Care Physician, Claudia Rivera, MD of Family Practice of Rockland in Valley Cottage and the Office of Dr. Kenneth Svensson in Nyack, shares what you need to know about cholesterol.

Keeping your blood cholesterol at a healthy level is an important way for you to reduce your risk of heart disease. The higher your cholesterol, the greater your risk of heart disease or a heart attack. More than one million Americans suffer a heart attack annually, and about 500,000 people die from heart disease. During National Heart Month, learn about cholesterol and how to manage it, to reduce your risk of future heart problems. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in the blood, which builds up in artery walls. Eventually, this causes the arteries to narrow, which in turn slows down or blocks blood flow to the heart. The result can be chest pain or a heart attack.

According to Dr. Rivera, “Having high cholesterol itself doesn’t cause symptoms; so many people don’t realize their levels are high.” You can find out your cholesterol levels by having a blood test which will tell you:

  • Your total cholesterol (which should be less than 200 mg/dL, or milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood).
  • Your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol level, which should be lower than 100 mg/dL. The higher your LDL level, the greater the chance you will develop heart disease.
  • Your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol level, which should be at least 60 mg/dL. HDL helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries.
  • Your triglycerides, another form of fat in the blood. Some people with borderline high (150 to 199 mg/dL) or high (at least 200 mg/dL) levels may need treatment.

There are steps you can take to help manage your cholesterol levels:

  • Reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Saturated fat raises your blood cholesterol more than anything else in your diet. It is found in fatty cuts of meat, poultry with the skin, whole-milk dairy products, and some vegetable oils such as coconut and palm oil.
  • Increase your physical activity to reduce LDL levels and raise HDL levels.
  • If you are overweight, eat fewer calories and increase the amount of fiber-rich foods you eat.
  • If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to sufficiently lower your LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may recommend drug therapy.

Work with your doctor to find out your cholesterol levels and manage them. The changes you start making today can protect your heart for many years to come.