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Knowing the facts on LDL cholesterol can prevent heart attack

You would never pour grease down your kitchen sink. After all, grease hardens when cooled, leading to buildup of pipe-clogging gunk.

Chew on that next time you chow down on a double cheeseburger and fries. Then, picture cholesterol-clogged arteries instead of the kitchen drain.

One in six adults has high total cholesterol. Are you one of them? Here's a quick cholesterol Q & A:

Q: What is cholesterol?

A: Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance necessary to make hormones, bile acids and vitamin D. When experts talk about "high cholesterol," they generally mean LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, a waxy fat-like substance.

Q: What is the difference between LDL and HDL cholesterol?

A: LDL cholesterol accumulates, forming hard plaque on artery walls. HDL, or "good" cholesterol, travels through the bloodstream, actually removing LDL cholesterol.

Q: What is the danger of uncontrolled LDL cholesterol?

A: High LDL cholesterol increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, says Manjeet Sethi, MD, interventional cardiologist at Northwest Community Hospital (NCH).

Q: What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?

A: High cholesterol is a "silent killer." Sometimes the first sign of high cholesterol is a heart attack.

When a heart attack patient is transported to NCH, a team of specialists mobilizes quickly to provide state-of-the-art treatment. A coronary angiogram is part of this process.

"When we conduct a coronary angiogram, the arteries of the heart should look like clean tubes—almost like roots leading to the trunk of a tree," Dr. Sethi says. In plaque-hardened arteries, blood flow is obstructed. "If a clot forms in that obstructed artery, it can block the artery completely. That causes a heart attack."

Q: What should I do to prevent high cholesterol?

A: Dr. Sethi urges exercise, smoking cessation, and a diet low in saturated fat (found mostly in animal products).

It's also important to know your total cholesterol score. Call your doctor to schedule a fasting lipid profile, a simple blood test recommended every five years for adults 20 years and older.

Manjeet Sethi, MD

Manjeet Sethi, MD

Interventional Cardiologist at Northwest Community Hospital

  • Board-Certified: Cardiovascular disease, internal medicine
  • Medical School: Christian Medical College, India
  • Internship, Residency and Fellowship: St. Francis Hospital

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Last Updated 04/10/2009