September is National Cholesterol Education Month, an initiative to raise awareness about the ways that cholesterol impacts health and to remind individuals to get their cholesterol checked.

38% of adults in the United States have high cholesterol (CDC). The risk of high cholesterol increases with age due to changes in how our bodies clear cholesterol from our blood. The accumulation of too much cholesterol in the blood can reduce blood flow through the arteries, potentially blocking the flow of blood to the heart (causing a heart attack) or the brain (causing a stroke). Cholesterol is thus one of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke – two leading causes of death in the United States.

High cholesterol usually doesn’t have any symptoms. As a result, many people do not know that their cholesterol levels are too high. The only way to detect high cholesterol is to have it checked by a healthcare professional. The CDC recommends that healthy adults have their cholesterol checked every four to six years. Individuals with risk factors for coronary artery disease, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and family history, should be screened more frequently. The screening can be done through a simple blood test at a doctor’s office or health clinic.

For those who do have high cholesterol, there are several lifestyle changes that can help get their cholesterol down to a healthier level. Maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and managing a healthy diet are all important in lowering one’s cholesterol to a healthy level. Foods that are low in fat and high in fiber, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, can help to lower cholesterol levels (CDC). If these lifestyle changes are not enough, there are several medications a doctor can prescribe to manage high cholesterol.

The following websites contain additional information about cholesterol screenings, health risks, and managing high cholesterol:

American Heart Association – How to Get Your Cholesterol Tested
CDC – Knowing Your Risk for High Cholesterol
CDC – Preventing and Managing High Cholesterol
Mayo Clinic – Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Cholesterol