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  The Role of Cholesterol in Heart Disease

Heart disease is caused by a number of factors. However, one of the most common causes of coronary artery disease and heart attacks—blocked arteries—is high cholesterol intake. Doctors are also discovering that cholesterol counts can be largely the result of genetics, as well. Either way, high counts of “bad” cholesterol can put patients at high risk for developing heart disease.

Cholesterol does serve a beneficial purpose in the body. Cholesterol helps to do a number of things, from insulating nerves, to helping the body make new cells, to helping produce hormones. Cholesterol is naturally present in your body. It also enters your body through the foods you eat, primarily foods like milk, cheese, eggs, and meat. Too much cholesterol can contribute to the development of clogged arteries and thus to coronary artery disease. Too much cholesterol will gather and thicken on the walls of your arteries, causing them to harden and to reduce blood flow to the heart. When this happens, the heart receives less valuable oxygen and has to work much harder to pump the same amount of blood throughout the body.

There are good and bad forms of cholesterol. Of course, the bad form is responsible for these blockages in the arteries and is the form that most prescription drugs target. Cholesterol can be influenced by both environmental and genetic factors. Environmental factors include age, weight, and lifestyle. Since coronary artery disease can be caused by high cholesterol, it is especially important to get your cholesterol levels tested regularly. Your doctor will be able to tell you if your levels are too high or if you are within the appropriate level for your health.

Diet and exercise is not always enough to lower bad cholesterol, though. Fortunately, there are several prescription drugs aimed at lowering cholesterol levels and ultimately, your risk for heart disease. These new drugs include Lipitor, Crestor, and Mevacor, among others. It is best to consult your healthcare provider to have your cholesterol levels analyzed. If a good diet and exercise do not lower them, you may want to discuss taking prescription drugs in order to further reduce your risk of developing heart disease.