More than 102 million American adults, 20 years or older, have total cholesterol readings higher than healthy levels.
In addition, more than 35 million of the same people have levels even higher. That puts them all at a greater risk for heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
September, being National Cholesterol Education Month, is perhaps the best time to get your blood cholesterol checked.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the body and many foods. The body does need cholesterol to function normally, but it produces all the body needs. It is one of the markers that can cause heart disease associated with strokes.
"A simple blood test in the doctor’s office, a finger stick and done in five minutes, measures total cholesterol levels including LDL (low-density lipoprotein or ‘bad’ cholesterol), HDL (high-density lipoprotein or ‘good’ cholesterol) and triglycerides," said Dr. Abe Hardoon of Suntree Internal Medicine. "You need to establish what the high and low cholesterol numbers are. If your parents had it, it can be inherited, regardless of obesity.
"Blood tests should be taken every three months," Hardoon added.
"Too much cholesterol can build up in the arteries. After a while, the deposits narrow your arteries putting you at risk for heart disease and stroke," according to the CDC.
High cholesterol can be controlled through lifestyle changes or through medications. For healthy results, maintain a healthy weight, do not smoke, eat low-fat and high-fiber food with fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Adults should get at least two and a half hours of moderate or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week.
Medication treatment is usually statin drugs prescribed by the doctor to lower LDL cholesterol.
"Statins are supposed to be taken in the evening with dinner," Hardoon said. "People on cholesterol medication should have cholesterol checked every three months. Stay on (the drug) as long as necessary or forever if needed."
Some statin side effects include diarrhea, constipation, nausea, cramps, dizziness, fatigue, muscle soreness or headaches.
"I have been on statins for cholesterol levels for more than 10 years," Lillian Razpeko said. "After getting test results, I am on a statin drug once a day. I have had nausea sometimes but no other drug side effects."
It’s important to check your cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.