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What seniors should know about cholesterol and heart disease

Cholesterol is an important molecule that plays numerous roles in the human body. It is a precursor of steroid hormones, helps absorb dietary fats, and is an essential component of cell membranes. Approximately 80% of cholesterol in the body is synthesized by the liver while roughly 20% is obtained from dietary sources.

However, high blood levels of cholesterol are linked to heart disease and atherosclerosis, which is a narrowing of the arteries. Therefore, there are several screening guidelines that target the risk assessment and levels of cholesterol.

Cholesterol screening

Cholesterol screening is recommended in Canada for all males older than 40, all females older than 50, and post-menopausal women. Testing is also recommended for all patients, regardless of age, who have diabetes, hypertension, heart disease or a family history of heart disease, obesity, recently stopped smoking or currently smoke, or inflammatory or renal disease.

Cardiovascular risk assessment

The Framingham Risk Score is the most commonly used cardiovascular risk assessment. It uses gender, age, cholesterol, smoking status, and blood pressure to calculate a patient’s 10-year risk of developing heart disease.

The primary treatment for high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is lifestyle modifications. Dietary recommendations suggest an intake of less than 20 mg per day of cholesterol. Since obesity is one of the leading causes of heart disease in North America, weight control and exercise are important factors to keep in mind. Finally, since smoking increases “bad” cholesterol and decreases “good” cholesterol, all patients are recommended to quit smoking.

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This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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