Newswise — Good or bad, our cholesterol levels affect our daily lives. They affect our risk for certain conditions, and lifestyle changes can be required to keep them in control.

“Good cholesterol — high-density lipoprotein [HDL] — recycles cholesterol and fat in the body,” says Alex Garton, MD, noninvasive cardiologist at PinnacleHealth CardioVascular Institute.

“What we call bad cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein [LDL], is ‘bad’ because any leftover LDL is deposited into the blood vessels, increasing the risk of vascular disease. HDL can help prevent this by ‘recycling’ excess amounts of bad cholesterol.”

“Total cholesterol” can be deceiving, so be sure you know the numbers for both your “bad” cholesterol and “good” cholesterol. But while knowing your numbers is important, cholesterol levels don’t always tell the whole story.

“Smoking cigarettes, having high blood pressure or having a family history of early heart disease can also increase a patient’s cholesterol-related risks,” says Dr. Garton. “These factors actually lower the LDL cholesterol number that signifies a patient is at risk for heart disease.”

Other factors that can lower the threshold at which LDL levels become a concern include diabetes, obesity and a family history of unhealthy cholesterol levels.The American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association recently released new treatment guidelines for cholesterol levels. These guidelines outlined a new method for estimating a patient’s future risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Using the new method and population health statistics, more people would be recommended to take statins — cholesterol-lowering drugs — than before,” Dr. Garton says. “Under the new recommendations, candidates for statins include patients with a history of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, anyone with very high LDL levels, and anyone between the ages of 40 and 75 who lives with Type 2 diabetes.”

Statins are more effective at lowering cholesterol than the majority of other cholesterol-lowering drugs and can reduce a patient’s risk of premature death, heart attack, stroke and blood clots.

You doctor may recommend that drug therapy be combined with a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars that is also rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich whole-grain foods, and fat-free and low-fat dairy.

The American Heart Association recommends all adults age 20 or older have their cholesterol, and other traditional risk factors, checked every four to six years. High cholesterol often shows no symptoms, so the best way to protect yourself is to be screened regularly.