Every complete medical checkup includes an analysis of the fats in your blood--mainly, your cholesterol levels. The balance of "good" and "bad" cholesterol in the blood is an important factor in your risk of cardiovascular disease. A combined cholesterol total of less than 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood is desirable. Even more important is having enough helpful HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and not too much unstable LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. You need fat. Your body uses it to build cells and hormones, and as a source of energy. Cholesterol's job is to bundle up with proteins and fat, in the form of triglycerides, to travel through the bloodstream to the places where fat is needed or stored. HDL molecules are good travelers, densely packed and stable. They can even tidy up potential blockages in the blood vessels as they pass through. LDL molecules, though, are more loosely put together. As they ramble through vessels, they can cause trouble by sticking to arteries' walls. If other cells, platelets and calcium build up at the site to create arterial plaque, the artery can become blocked. If plaque breaks free from the artery's wall, it could travel to the brain or heart, causing a stroke or heart attack. People with unhealthful cholesterol levels have no symptoms. A blood test is the only way to diagnose cholesterol problems. Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that about 20% of U.S. adults have never had their cholesterol checked.
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