cholesterol levels, one-third of Americans say they haven't had their numbers checked in the past five years.
Getting your cholesterol tested — and under control — is critical to preventing heart disease and other serious health problems. But figuring out when to test and what to make of the numbers can feel daunting.
How harmful is «bad cholesterol» for your health? Should you worry if your total cholesterol is just on the cusp of being too high? And how much can you lower your levels by changing your diet or exercise habits?
We asked experts what to know about cholesterol tests and management.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance (also called a lipid) that is produced by the liver. It's essential for making cell membranes, hormones and more. Usually your liver makes all the cholesterol you need. But some foods, including meat and dairy products, may increase the cholesterol circulating in your blood, which is why you may be asked to fast before a cholesterol test.
Cholesterol gets a bad rap because there's strong evidence linking higher levels to plaque buildup in the arteries and the hardening of blood vessel walls over time. In medical terms, this is called atherosclerosis. Eventually, the buildup can block blood flow to your heart, causing a heart attack. Pieces of plaque can also rupture and travel to other parts of your body, causing a stroke.
Most people don't have any symptoms until their arteries are already severely clogged. That's why doctors look to cholesterol levels to catch and