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September 26, 2022 Health & Wellness

The Basics of Cholesterol

Since September 2022 is National Cholesterol Education Month, we wanted to share information about this important factor in heart disease and stroke risk. Read on to learn about risk factors, how you can lower your cholesterol, and what Medicare services are available regarding cholesterol.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy and fat-like substance found in the body with many functions including helping with building tissue and cells.

Many people hear “cholesterol” and think that it’s bad, but did you know there’s a “good” type too? Low-Density Lipoprotein, or LDL, is the “bad” type of cholesterol. It’s needed for the process of repairing cells but becomes dangerous when there’s too much of it. High-Density Lipoprotein, or HDL, is the “good” type because it helps move the bad cholesterol to your liver to be removed from your body.

What causes high cholesterol?

There are many risk factors for high cholesterol, including having diabetes, eating an excessive amount of saturated fat or trans fats, not getting enough exercise, tobacco and alcohol use, a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, and a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30. Cholesterol levels can also increase with age, and men tend to be at higher risk than women.

If you have an excess of “bad” cholesterol, plaque may build up in your arteries. This would make the arteries narrow and eventually restrict blood flow. These situations could result in heart disease, a heart attack, or a stroke.

How can I lower my cholesterol?

There are many ways to help lower your cholesterol, but adjusting your diet seems to have the most impact. It can also be helpful to exercise daily, cut out alcohol and tobacco use, and be sure to stay hydrated. If you have a high BMI, weight loss can also help keep your cholesterol in check. Making some of the changes mentioned here can also help with weight management. The CDC has a great handout with tips on controlling your cholesterol.

Of course, prior to making any major health changes, you should always consult with your doctor first to make sure they approve of the plan. Some people need to take medication to manage their cholesterol levels.

How do I check my cholesterol?

Cholesterol levels are checked with a simple blood test. The test will tell you what your LDL and HDL levels are, as well as your total cholesterol level, and triglycerides level, which is a type of fat found in blood.

Screenings are typically recommended once every five years, starting as a child. Coincidentally, Medicare Part B will cover one screening every five years. Under Original Medicare, you wouldn’t have to pay anything for the tests if the health care provider accepts assignment.

If you have any of the risk factors, your doctor may recommend testing more frequently for you. In this case, you may have to pay for some or all of the service provided, but you can always check with your provider in advance to find out if Medicare will pay for it and/or how much it will cost you.

More Resources

Here are some more resources that may help you stay heart healthy: