Sioux Center Community Hospital building

Get screened to ensure your heart is healthy

Plaque buildup in your arteries is a secret enemy you won’t see or feel for years or even decades – until you’re in the emergency room with heart attack or stroke symptoms, and it’s too late to undo much of the damage.

High blood cholesterol, a leading indicator of heart disease, is happening at younger ages, said Dr. Jason Koelewyn with Sioux Center Community Hospital and Health Center Avera. All adults – both men and women – are advised to get a baseline cholesterol check in their 20s, and then get tested at least every five years.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women,” Dr. Koelewyn said. “It’s so important to detect it early and get it under treatment early, either by medication or lifestyle changes, to prevent cardiac and vascular disease down the road.

While high cholesterol is a significant factor in heart disease, it’s one of many contributors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking and a strong family history. Finding out if you have high cholesterol involves a simple blood test, which requires you to fast for eight hours before the test.

The results provide four numbers:
• Total cholesterol. The ideal number is less than 200.
• LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. LDL, which has often been termed “bad” cholesterol, should be 130 or less. The ideal LDL number is 100 or less for those with heart disease or other risk factors.
• HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, also known as “good cholesterol,” counteracts LDL, so the higher the HDL, the better. Normal is 40 to 60.
• Triglycerides should be under 150.

If cholesterol is high, doctors often advise patients to first try to bring their numbers into the normal range with lifestyle changes, such as exercise, weight loss and changes in the diet.

Dietary changes include a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and high-fiber grains like whole wheat and oat bran; increasing “good” fats such as Omega-3 oil found in fish oil, canola oil or flaxseed; selecting lean meats; and limiting or eliminating your intake of saturated fats.

If you get less than 30 minutes of exercise on most days, you’re putting yourself at higher risk for heart disease. Even simple activities such as walking, gardening, housework and dancing can improve cardiovascular fitness. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most if not all days of the week. The time can be broken up into shorter periods, too, as long as they add up to a minimum of 30 minutes.

Aerobic activity such as brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, aerobics and swimming can help reduce blood pressure. Aerobic refers to exercise that increase your heart rate and involves or improves oxygen consumption by the body.

If lifestyle changes don’t lower cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication.

Because heart attacks can strike at any age, everyone should be aware of the warning signs:
• Chest discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
• Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
• Shortness of breath, light-headedness, cold sweat or nausea along with chest discomfort.
If you experience these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

For more information, go to To learn more about total heart screenings through the Planet Heart program, call 1-877-AT-AVERA, or go to and click on “Events and Screenings.”