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National Cholesterol Education Month

Dr. Natasha Ferguson shares tips for cholesterol management during National Cholesterol Education month.
National Cholesterol Education Month
Featured Speaker:
Natasha Ferguson, MD
Natasha P. Ferguson, MD is a board-certified physician in Primary Care/Family Medicine. She practices at Highland Medical, P.C., Palisades Primary Care and Pulmonary Medicine in West Nyack, NY.
Dr. Ferguson received her medical doctorate at Ross University School of Medicine in Portsmouth, Dominica, West Indies. She completed her residency and was chief resident in her final year at Underwood Memorial Hospital in Deptford, NJ. She was a research fellow at Albert Einstein College of Medicine Yeshiva University in Bronx, NY.
Prior to joining Highland Medical, P.C., she practiced as a physician at Stamford Community Health Clinic in Stamford, CT. She specializes in Hepatitis C and HIV treatment as well as transgender medicine.
Dr. Ferguson is a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians. She enjoys reading, cycling and spending time with her family. Dr. Ferguson is eager to build relationships with her new patients.

Prakash Chandran (Host):  September may be back to school month but it’s also cholesterol awareness month and today we’ll find out everything you need to know about this important health issue. Let’s talk about it today with Dr. Natasha Ferguson, a Family Medicine physician at Highland Medical P.C.

This is Sound Advice, the podcast from Highland Medical P.C. I’m Prakash Chandran. So, Dr. Ferguson, the only thing that I know about cholesterol is that it should be too high. But maybe you can share a little bit about what exactly cholesterol is.

Natasha Ferguson, MD (Guest):  It is a waxy substance found in your blood. And your body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells but high levels of cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.

Host:  Okay and when you say it’s like a waxy substance in the blood. Does it congeal, does it have the ability to clog arteries that go to the heart? Is that why you need to keep it low?

Dr. Ferguson:  Yes, that’s correct.

Host:  Okay so, talk to me about what a high level of cholesterol is. Like I hear all these numbers being thrown out but maybe you can tell us like the good range, the bad range, ideal range et cetera.

Dr. Ferguson: So for levels and ranges, in adults, total cholesterol levels should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter. And that’s considered healthy. So, a reading between 200 and 239 is borderline high and a reading of 240 is above and is considered very high. LDL cholesterol levels, normal should be between 100 and 129 and that’s acceptable for people with no health problems. But it is actually considered high for those with heart disease or heart disease risk factors.

Now 130 to 159 is borderline high and 160 to 189 is high. And anything over 190 is actually considered very high.

Host:  Are there any hereditary factors that come into play here like if I go in and I normally or I typically have a high level of cholesterol due to family history; I’ve been told before that it’s not something that I need to worry about too much but is that necessarily the case?

Dr. Ferguson: So that’s definitely something you should look at. So, some people are at increased risk of elevated cholesterol because of hereditary factors. Other components can be because of lifestyle, such as diet or lack of exercise. So, if you’re told that your cholesterol is high; then you should follow up with a doctor.

Host:  Okay and I want to get into the specifics around what it means to have high cholesterol. So, you mentioned that there could be some heart disease issues, but maybe talk more specifically. Are we talking a heart attack, are we talking shortness of breath? Talk a little bit about what people actually experience when they have high cholesterol.

Dr. Ferguson: Unfortunately, there’s no signs and symptoms of high cholesterol. The only way you find out is through routine check.

Host:  I see. And is there a way—let’s say people find out that they have high cholesterol, how do they go about treating it?

Dr. Ferguson:  So, when I have a patient that has high cholesterol, we try to treat that naturally. So, what I advise them to do is that if they are a smoker, to stop smoking. If they need to lose weight, we discuss losing excess weight. Exercise most days of the week. Eat heart healthy foods, rich in soluble fiber, omega threes, fatty acids. Limit your consumption of foods that are rich in saturated fats. Eliminate trans fats from the diet and drink alcohol in moderation. So, that’s the first step.

The second thing that’s advised if they are unable to reduce the cholesterol naturally; then we talk about medications. So, the medications that we prescribe most often are statins.

Host:  And I know that this is a layman question, but what exactly is a statin?

Dr. Ferguson:  So, statin is a medication for hypercholesterolemia, and it’s used to reduce your LDL levels which is your bad cholesterol. So, for the statins that are most prescribed, I’m sure you have heard of them; Zocor, pravastatin, Lipitor. Those are the most popular medications, also Crestor; those are the most popular medications prescribed.

Host:  I see. Okay and so, you mentioned a couple of things there. I just assumed it was all diet. But you are saying smoking, alcohol, there are so many factors that lead to high cholesterol. Is that correct?

Dr. Ferguson:  That’s correct.

Host:  And what would you say the most common contributor is? Someone was telling me that just eating a lot of eggs can contribute to high cholesterol. But maybe talk about some of the most common culprits.

Dr. Ferguson:  So, the most common culprit is excess weight. The second one like you were talking about with diet. So, persons who tend to eat more saturated or trans fats. That also increases your cholesterol. And of course, lack of exercise.

Host:  If someone has high cholesterol, it seems like something that like you said, because it doesn’t express itself in any meaningful way physically; maybe people might tend to ignore it. So, maybe talk to people that are just thinking that okay well my cholesterol has always been high, it’s something that I can put off until later. What advice might you have for them?

Dr. Ferguson:  I would advise them not to put off because what we worry about is complications. So, with high cholesterol, that can cause dangerous accumulations of cholesterol and other deposits in the walls of our arteries called atherosclerosis. These deposits which are plaque can reduce blood flow through your arteries which can cause complications such as chest pain. So, if you ever heard the word angina, where people get pain in the chest, heart attack, right? So, if plaques tear or rupture, a blood clot can form a plaque that ruptures at that site, blocking the flow of blood or breaking free and plugging the artery downstream. And also stroke.

Host:  Is there anything else that you want our audience to know today about cholesterol and cholesterol management?

Dr. Ferguson:  No, but I do advise your audience that if they haven’t had the annual physical for them to go in and get annual physical and get their cholesterol checked today.

Host:  Okay so what I’m understanding is that it’s really about keeping the arteries clear and the blood flowing and at your annual physical, they check your cholesterol level so if you are doing that already you should be okay.

Dr. Ferguson:  Yes, correct.

Host:  Well Dr. Ferguson, I really appreciate your time today. That’s Dr. Natasha Ferguson, a Family Medicine physician at Highland Medical P.C. Thanks for checking out this episode of Sound Advice. Call 1-866-550-HMPC to make an appointment with Dr. Ferguson. If you found this podcast helpful, please share it on your social channels and be sure to check out the entire podcast library for topics of interest to you. Thanks and we’ll see you next time.