Dr. Kristin Huang, a primary care physician at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, answers frequently asked questions about cholesterol and how to manage it.
Q: What is cholesterol and why should patients be concerned about it?
A: Cholesterol is a natural substance found in your bloodstream that is important for good health. Cholesterol comes from two sources: Your body makes cholesterol, and you also get cholesterol from foods that come from animals. Some people have too much cholesterol. Too much cholesterol can lead to a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other health problems.
Q: What is the difference between good and bad cholesterol?
A: Good cholesterol, or HDL, helps lower your risk of heart attacks and strokes. On the other hand, bad cholesterol, or LDL, increases your risk of heart attacks and strokes. LDL is bad because it contributes to the plaque that clogs blood vessels. HDL is good because it helps remove LDL from your blood vessels.
Q: How does cholesterol affect overall health?
A: If you have too much cholesterol, it can build up as plaque your blood vessels, making it harder for your heart to circulate blood. The plaque can burst and cause blood clots, which in turn cause strokes and heart attacks.
Cholesterol is just one of factors that affect your heart health. Other things that you can do to decrease your risk of heart attacks and strokes are to stop smoking if you smoke cigarettes and to lower your blood pressure if you have high blood pressure.
Q: What can patients do to manage their cholesterol?
A: There are several ways to help lower your bad cholesterol and increase your good cholesterol. You can avoid eating red meat, butter, fried foods, cheese, and foods that have a lot of saturated fat. You can eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. You can lose weight if you are overweight. You can increase your physical activity (walking, swimming, biking, dancing).
In consultation with your doctor, depending on your risk of heart attack and stroke, you may consider taking a medication called a “statin” to help improve your cholesterol levels and decrease your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Q: What resources are available at Tufts MC Primary Care?
A: You should talk to your primary care doctor about your cholesterol and ways that you can improve your heart health. Tufts Medical Center has a Jumpstart to Wellness program that can help with weight loss. Your doctor can also refer you to our nutritionists to discuss dietary changes that may help you. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help improve your cholesterol and lower your risk of heart attacks and strokes. In certain circumstances, your doctor may refer you to a specialist for further evaluation and treatment.