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Cholesterol Defined

Understanding Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance made in your liver. Your body needs it to build your cells’ walls, digest fat, and make some hormones. Every day your liver makes enough for what your body needs, so you don’t need to add extra to your diet.

From hamburgers to cheese, cholesterol hides in some of our favorite foods. The average American man eats 337 milligrams of it each day, which is 37 milligrams more than the American Heart Association says is healthy.

Although 37 milligrams doesn’t seem like much, in a week, that adds up to 259 extra milligrams. A diet high in fat and cholesterol is the main reason for heart disease, which is the #1 cause of death in the United States.

Bad cholesterol can happen at any age to anyone, regardless of shape, size, or gender.

Guidelines

Total Cholesterol Level

Category

Less than 200 mg/dL

Good

200-239 mg/dL

Borderline High

240 mg/dL or higher

High

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol Level

Category

Less than 100 mg/dL

Best

100-129 mg/dL

Good

130-159 mg/dL

Borderline High

160 mg/dL or higher

High

HDL (Good) Cholesterol Level

Category

60 mg/dL or higher

Best

Less than 40 mg/dL

Too Low

Via The American Heart Association

Talk to your doctor to find out your numbers. The sooner you know them, the sooner you can plan for better health.

Know Your Heart Meds

Your Meds and Your Heart

Know Your Heart Meds

You don’t need to be an expert on your drugs, that’s what your doctor’s for, but you should ask questions and know the basics about your heart meds.

Whether it’s a pill for high cholesterol or your blood pressure medicine, make sure you know the answers to these questions:

  • What’s the name of my medicine?
  • What does it do?
  • What are its side effects?
  • What can I do to reduce those side effects?
  • How does this drug work with other drugs, dietary supplements, foods, or drinks?
  • How much is a one dose?
  • When’s the best time to take this medicine, like when you wake up, with breakfast, or before bed?
  • How long will I take this medicine?
  • What should I do if I miss a pill?

Helpful Terms for Understanding Your Blood Pressure Heart Meds

Blood vessels move blood through your body. These are the types of blood vessels:

  • Arteries – These carry blood away from your heart
  • Capillaries – These connect your arteries to your veins and help move water and chemicals between your blood and tissues.
  • Veins – These carry blood from your capillaries back to your heart

Did you know? If you laid all the blood vessels of an average adult in a line, it would stretch over 100,000 miles.

Kinds of Blood Pressure Heart Meds

Blood pressure meds fall into 11 different classes, but they all have the same goals, to lower and control your blood pressure.

Classes

How It Works

Possible Side Effects

Diuretics Help your body flush extra salt and water through your urine.
  • More trips to the
    bathroom
  • Low potassium
Beta-Blockers Reduce your heart rate and how much blood it pumps to lower your blood pressure.
  • Drowsiness
  • Low heart rate
  • Decreased sexual
    ability
ACE Inhibitors (Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme) Narrow your arteries and make you produce less angiotensin, so that your blood vessels can open up to lower your blood pressure.
  • Dry cough
  • High potassium levels
Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers Block your blood vessels from angiotension, so that your blood vessels can open up to lower your blood pressure.
  • High potassium levels
Calcium
Channel Blocker
Prevents calcium from entering the muscle cells of your heart and arteries, which makes your heart’s job easier, and helps your blood vessels open up to lower your blood pressure.
  • Low heart rate
  • Uneven or rapid heartbeat
  • Constipation
  • Ankle swelling
Alpha-Blockers Reduce nerve impulses to your blood vessels to let blood pass more easily.
  • Headache
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain
  • Small decreases in bad cholesterol
Central
Agonists
Decrease your blood vessels’ ability to narrow, which also helps to lower blood pressure.
  • Anemia
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased sexual
    ability
  • Fever

Via the American Heart Association.

Kinds of Cholesterol Heart Meds

Depending on the type, cholesterol meds help:

  • Lower your bad cholesterol.
  • Lower your triglycerides, a fat in your blood that raises your risk of heart disease.
  • Increase your good cholesterol, which guards against heart disease.

Types of Cholesterol Meds

How It works

Possible Side Effects

Statins
Altoprev (lovastatin)
Crestor (rosuvastatin)
Lescol (fluvastatin)
Lipitor (atorvastatin)
Mevacor (lovastatin)
Pravachol (pravastatin)
Zocor (simvastatin)
Lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides and cause small increases in good cholesterol.
  • Constipation
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Cramps
  • Muscle soreness
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Interaction with grapefruit juice
Bile Acid Binding Resins
Colestid (colestipol)
Questran (cholestyramine/ sucrose)
Welchol (colesevelam)
Lower bad cholesterol.
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Upset stomach
  • Gas
  • May increase triglycerides
Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitor
Zetia (ezetimibe) Lowers bad cholesterol, and causes small decrease in triglycerides and small increase in good cholesterol.
  • Stomach pain
  • Exhaustion
  • Muscle soreness
Combination Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitor and Statin
Vytorin (ezetimibe-simvastatin) Lowers bad cholesterol and triglycerides and increases good cholesterol.
  • Stomach pain
  • Exhaustion
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Cramps
  • Muscle soreness
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Interaction with grapefruit juice
Fibrates
Lofibra (fenofibrate)
Lopid (gemfibrozil)
TriCor (fenofibrate)
Lower triglycerides and increases good choleterol.
  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach pain
  • Gallstones
Niacin
Niaspan (prescription niacin) Lowers bad cholesterol and triglycerides and increases good cholesterol.
  • Flushed face and neck
  • Upset stomach
  • Throwing up
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • High blood sugar
  • Peptic ulcers
Combination Statin and Niacin
Advicor (niacin-lovastatin) Lowers bad cholesterol and triglycerides and increases good cholesterol.
  • Flushed face and neck
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Interaction with grapefruit juice
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Lovaza (prescription omega-3 fatty acid supplement)
Vascepa (Icosapent ethyl)
Lowers triglycerides.
  • Burping
  • Fishy taste
  • Increased infection risk

Via The Mayo Clinic

When Should I Take My Heart Meds?

Your body’s inner clock can affect how well some medications work. Since, you can’t read your body’s clock though, researchers have studied how well heart meds work when they’re taken at different times of the day.

According to a clinical trial from Medscape, blood pressure meds are most effective when taken at night. The random trial tested the effect of taking blood pressure meds at bedtime versus in the morning.

It found that treatment at bedtime was the most cost-effective and simplest strategy to reach the right blood pressure when sleeping and of getting a normal 24-hour blood pressure pattern.”

It also estimated that each 5-mm-Hg decrease in overnight blood pressure reduced the risk of heart events by 14%.

Of course, you should always talk to your doctor before you make a change to your meds or their schedule. You can also learn more about the importance of taking your heart meds regularly and on-time in our Health section.

Managing Your Diabetes Instantly

Apps for Managing Your Diabetes

These days, we can do almost anything with our phones and tablets, and that includes getting help managing your diabetes. Check out these apps (and more) that the American Diabetes Association recommends.

Managing Your Diabetes On-the-Go

Glucose Buddy

Glucose Buddy has tools to track blood sugar levels, med doses, nutrition, and exercise, including handy graphs. And you can set up phone alerts to remind you when to check your levels.

Carb Counting with Lenny

This app makes learning to eat with type 1 diabetes fun and easy. There is a “Does This Food Have Carbs?” game and pictures of common foods with their carb counts.

Diabetes Nutrition by Fooducate

Eating smart is one of the best ways to control your diabetes. Diabetes Nutrition helps you do that by showing you what is actually in the foods you eat. Scan the barcode to see nutrition facts, added sweeteners, and a health grade for the food. When that food isn’t getting a great grade, just tap the screen to see healthier choices.

LogFrog DB

LogFrog helps track blood sugar levels with a frog as your guide. This app makes logging your levels feel like a game. Graphs show spikes in your levels to help you decide if you should change up your daily plan. You can also set alerts so you always remember to check levels and take your medicine on time. This app is a great option for helping your kids manage their diabetes.

GoMeals

GoMeals helps you eat right, even when you’re away from home. You can look up nutrition facts for restaurant meals and food. You can look at restaurant menus to help you plan ahead for smart choices. You can also track your foods and nutrition after eating.

Packing for Traveling with Diabetes

Packing Your Pump: Traveling with Diabetes

Traveling is already stressful. When you add in you or your family’s diabetes, it just gets worse. But, like all vacation planning, good prep is key to making sure traveling with diabetes goes smoothly.

Preparation for Traveling with Diabetes

It’s best to travel when your diabetes is under control, so schedule a check up with your doctor before your trip if you need to.

Make sure you have enough of current prescriptions to take while traveling. With some things, you can stock up in advance. For others, you may have to take your prescription with you and get it filled on the road. Make sure you also know which pharmacies your plan covers before getting a prescription filled there.

Keep a document that lists all of the medicines and supplies you’re traveling with. Not only can it help you pack before leaving home or the hotel, but you can also show it to security agents at airports to help them check your supplies quickly.

Call or check out your insulin pump company’s website before you fly. Not all pumps can go through the X-ray machines safely, so it’s important to check for yours. If your pump can’t go through, let one of the TSA agents know and ask for a pat down check instead.

Packing for Traveling with Diabetes

According to the TSA, most diabetes supplies, including insulin, pumps, unused syringes, lancets, and blood glucose meters are allowed in your carry-on.

It’s important that you pack supplies and snacks in your carry-on so that you can monitor your diabetes during the flight without problems.

Keep medications in their original containers, and keep them in a separate, clear plastic bag. This makes it easy for security to check what kind of meds you have and that they’re yours.

Use your list to make sure you’ve packed everything you need to take care of your diabetes.

If your kids are traveling without you, it’s important to both help them pack their supplies, and to make sure they have their emergency plan and important numbers, like your phone number and their blood sugar levels, handy when traveling.

At the Airport

Once you’re at the airport, the key to a smooth flight is communication.

Make sure you tell the security officers you are traveling with diabetes supplies and meds and if you need a pat down or your bag checked by hand to protect your pump.

Use a phone, an app, or a watch that can stay on your home time zone, so you can keep track of when you should be eating and taking medicine on your normal schedule. It’s easy to get distracted on vacation, so alarms are also an easy way to remind yourself at the right time.

Once you’re on your flight, if you feel sick and need food, a drink, or to get your carry-on quickly, it can help if you let your flight attendant know what’s happening. They can help you better and faster if they know it’s important for your diabetes.

Always make sure you’re wearing your shoes after you go through security and on your flight. Never go barefoot to protect your feet.

After Arriving

Once you’ve made it to your hotel, it’s a good idea to make sure your supplies are still organized after the flight.

Make sure you’re still keeping track of meals, meds, and your levels like you would at home. Try to plan activities so you’ll have plenty of time to go back to your room to check your levels or take meds, or be ready to bring things with you.

And of course, watch what you eat. Vacation is a good time to enjoy yourself, but still keep a good count of your carbs.

With a little extra planning, diabetes won’t be able to stand in your way of an amazing trip!

Treating Diabetes with Glucose Checks

Treating Diabetes

There isn’t a cure for diabetes, but it is very treatable. Treating diabetes depends on which type of diabetes you have.

Type 1 Diabetes

Because those with type 1 diabetes can’t produce enough of their own insulin, they must treat their diabetes with insulin injections.

Type 2 Diabetes

For many, treatment for type 2 diabetes focuses on diet and exercise. If blood sugar levels stay high, oral medications can help your body better produce insulin.

In some cases, insulin injections are used.

For those who who are at risk of TOFI type 2 diabetes, it’s important to:

  • Exercise, which is the only way to shed fat on the abdominal organs.
  • Lower stress, which can temporarily raise your blood sugar.
  • Diet smart by avoiding “diet foods” that are actually loaded with sugar, like low-fat salad dressings and vitamin drinks.

Gestational Diabetes

Treatment for gestational diabetes needs to happen quickly to protect you and your baby.

Treatment tries to keep your blood sugar levels at the same levels as healthy pregnant women’s through a combination of these:

  • Specialized meal plans
  • Regular, scheduled physical activity
  • Daily blood sugar testing
  • Insulin injections

It’s important to work with your doctor to make a treatment plan in all cases, but especially with gestational diabetes where personal changes are important for protecting your baby.

Testing

The A1c test measures your average blood sugar level over 2-3 months. Your doctor will generally order it every 3-6 months depending on which type of diabetes you have to keep an eye on how your treatment is working.

For most adults, the American Diabetes Association’s suggests your A1c be under 7%, but your doctor will help you decide what’s best for you. Studies show that people with diabetes keep normal A1c levels live five years longer, on average.

Checking your blood sugar with your personal meter helps you manage your treatment on a day-to-day basis. It gives you info right away to help you make decisions about taking your insulin, when to exercise, and tell you if you’re on track.

Keeping normal blood sugar levels reduces the risk of high cholesterol, and controlling your cholesterol can lower heart complications by 50%.

These two tests work together to tell you how your diabetes management is going. This chart shows what an A1c level translates to in blood sugar levels:

A1c         Average Blood Sugar (mg/dl)

6%                             126

7%                             154

8%                             183

9%                             212

10%                           240

11%                           269

12%                           298

Insulin Injections

The biggest challenge to people who are treating diabetes with insulin injections is balancing exactly how much insulin you need to take, which can vary based on:

  • Food
  • Exercise
  • Stress
  • Current emotions
  • General health

Not balancing these factors and your insulin can result in hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia.

Hypoglycemia is when you eat too little food, take too much insulin or diabetes meds, or get extra exercise, which causes your blood sugar levels to be too low.

Hyperglycemia is when you eat too much food, don’t take enough insulin, or are stressed or sick, and then your blood sugar levels are too high.

The best way to know if your blood sugar is high or low is to test your levels. But it’s also good to know the warning signs:

Hypoglycemia

  • Shaky
  • Dizzy
  • Nervous
  • Sweaty
  • Hungry
  • Clumsy
  • Confused
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Tingling mouth
  • Headache
  • Pale face
  • Seizure
  • Passing out

Hyperglycemia

  • Going to the bathroom a lot
  • Thirsty
  • Tired
  • Weak
  • Blurry vision
  • Hungry, even when you’ve eaten.

When your blood sugar level is too low, you can:

  • Eat or drink something with 15 grams of carbs:
    • Try three glucose tablets, 4 ounces of apple or orange juice, 4 ounces regular soda, 1 tablespoon cake frosting or three Jolly Ranchers.
    • Wait 15 minutes, and then check your blood glucose level again.
    • If your blood glucose is still too low, eat another 15 grams of carbs. Wait another 15 minutes, and then check your blood glucose again. You may want to keep eating until you feel better, but it’s very important to wait the full 15 minutes.

If you or your care team feel your signs are serious, inject glucagon which is the opposite of insulin—it raises your blood glucose level.

If your blood sugar is high, it’s important to remember that one high blood sugar reading isn’t a big deal, it happens to everyone from time to time. But if you keep running high day after day, talk to your doctor.

No matter what, it’s important to talk to your doctor and care team about the best way to manage your diabetes and how to handle these situations.

Signs of a Stroke

Do You Know the Signs of a Stroke?

About 700,000 Americans will have a new or recurring stroke this year, and more than 158,000 of them will die. Stroke is the third highest cause of death among Americans and a leading cause of serious, long-term disability.

About Strokes

There are different kinds of strokes:

Ischemic Stroke
A blockage within a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain. These account for 87% of all stroke cases.
Hemorrhagic Stroke
When a weakened blood vessel ruptures, like an aneurism. The most common cause is uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
Often called a mini stroke, these are caused by a temporary clot. But these warning strokes should be taken very seriously.

 

Strokes can cause:

  • Paralysis on the left or right side of the body, depending on the side of the brain the stroke is on
  • Vision problems
  • Quick, inquisitive behavioral style or slow, cautious behavioral style, depending on the side of the brain the stroke is on
  • Memory loss
  • Speech or language problems

Signs & Symptoms of Stroke

The early signs and symptoms of stroke are very similar to the long-term effects. These can include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion
  • Trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking or loss of balance

What Happens After a Stroke

Once you’re taken to a hospital, a doctor will try to gather info to make a diagnosis. They will:

  • Go over what’s happened already
  • Get your medical history
  • Do a physical and neurological exam
  • Get certain blood tests done
  • Get a CT or MRI scan
  • Study the results of other tests that might be needed
  • Work with you on immediate and long-term treatment

Preventing Strokes

The good news is that 80% of all strokes can be prevented by managing key risk factors, including high blood pressure, smoking, and physical inactivity. More than half of all strokes are caused by high blood pressure.

Learn more about high blood pressure, its generic drug options, or preventing strokes.

Remember, if you or someone you are with experiences stroke symptoms, it is very important to get medical attention immediately. If given within the first 3 hours of symptoms, a clot busting drug can reduce long term disability for the most common type of stroke.

Schedule Your Doctor's Appointment

Getting the Most Out of Your Doctor’s Appointment

Scheduling Your Doctor’s Appointment

Prevention is important to maintaining good health, so it is important to know what you need each year at your doctor’s appointment.

Blood Pressure

This should happen at every doctor’s appointment, even if you don’t currently have high blood pressure, to track your levels over time.

Flu Shot

This yearly shot protects you and those you care about from the flu.

Yearly Blood Tests

You should get these blood tests at your yearly physical doctor’s appointment:

Microalbumin

This yearly test can detect early signs of kidney damage.

Dental Exam

You should set up this kind of doctor’s appointment with your dentist every 6 months for a regular cleaning.

Dilated Eye Exam

This yearly doctor’s appointment is when your eye doctor puts eye drops into your pupil so they can get a better view of the back of your eye.

Pneumococcal Shot

This one-time shot prevents blood, brain, and lung infections, like pneumonia, caused by a certain bacteria.

HbA1c

Those with diabetes should have this test at doctor’s appointments 2 to 4 times a year to help track their blood sugar levels long-term.

Foot Exam

This should happen at every doctor’s appointment for those with diabetes.

At Your Doctor’s Appointment

Ask for help.

Never be afraid to ask your doctor for advice. They want to help you be your best!

  • Prepare – Organize your questions ahead of time, and feel free to write them down if you’re afraid of forgetting anything.
  • Be Specific – Detailed information can help your doctor make your treatment plan and make sure it is working for you.
  • Tell the Truth – Be honest and direct with your doctor. Sharing information about how you feel will help you stay healthy.

Ask questions.

Not sure what to ask at your doctor’s appointment? Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What’s my blood pressure, cholesterol, and health goals?
  • How frequently should I check my blood pressure?
  • What lifestyle changes can I make to lower my blood pressure and cholesterol? Should I start a healthy diet or exercise plan?
  • What are the common side effects of my meds? Will any of my other meds, supplements, or foods interact with any of my meds?

Stay calm.

Do you get nervous or anxious when you go to doctor’s appointments? You’re not alone, and it can actually cause your blood pressure to rise while you’re there. Research shows that about 20% of patients with mild cases of high blood pressure see their blood pressure rise at doctor’s appointments. This is sometimes called white-coat syndrome.

Track your blood pressure at home and compare readings with those taken in the office to see if this is happening to you. Take these readings with you to your next doctor’s appointment and talk to them about it to make sure they get an accurate account of your blood pressure.

And once they know, your doctor can also help calm your fears, like by explaining exactly what they’re doing as they go.