Cholesterol is a normal component of blood, produced in the liver, and absorbed from dietary fat intake. It is necessary to maintain cell membranes and used to help transport fats. However, too much cholesterol can lead to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that all adults over the age of 20 have their cholesterol checked every five years. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s National Cholesterol Education Month Kit can be found at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/about/ncep and will guide you through several steps to determine if you are at risk for heart disease, and what you can do about it.
Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream in several forms. The two most common are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is “the bad cholesterol” which causes plaque formation leading to clogged arteries, heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. Elevated LDL is the result of poor dietary habits, inactivity, and other factors such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, and genetics. HDL is “the good cholesterol” that helps remove fats from the bloodstream and prevent plaque formation in the arteries. An elevated HDL (>40) is desirable and is the result of a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fat and cholesterol, lots of physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and other factors present in a healthy lifestyle.
Although heart attack and stroke are uncommon in young adults, they can be the result of cholesterol that has been elevated since adolescence or early adulthood. Long term prospective studies show that high cholesterol levels detected in young adults predicts a higher rate of heart disease in middle age. Risk factor identification in young adults is an important aim for long-term prevention. Screening for cholesterol by age 20 offers opportunities for education about lifestyle modification that can prevent heart disease from developing later.
Cholesterol testing is offered at UW Student Health Service. You must have an appointment with a clinician (physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant) who will help you determine risk factors by asking you questions about your medical history, as well as health habits such as diet, alcohol consumption, exercise, and smoking. The test requires that you have been fasting for about 12 hours, and blood will be drawn. Results are usually available the next day. The cost of the test is reasonable and your insurance may, or may not, cover the cost of the test.
Another low cost source of cholesterol and other blood screening is the Wyoming Health Fair. For more information call 307-638-7890 or go to www.wyominghealthfairs.com.
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