Are you having back pain with any of the following?

  • Severe pain, weakness or tingling in your leg(s).
  • Difficulty stopping urination or loss of control of bladder or bowels.
  • Unexplained fever, nausea or vomiting.
  • A history of cancer or unexplained weight loss.

We understand that you are experiencing one or more of the health issues that might be impacting your back pain.

We recommend that you discuss these health issues with your doctor before proceeding with this program.

Once you are cleared by your doctor to do this program, we hope it helps you find relief from your back pain.

Provider photo for Jeremy Swartzberg

Jeremy Swartzberg, MD

Hospital Medicine

Welcome to My Doctor Online, a web site that my colleagues and I developed to make it easier for you to take care of your healthcare needs. On this site you will find answers to many of your questions about my clinical practice. Also included are several online features that will allow you to e-mail me, check your laboratory results and refill prescriptions. I hope you find its content informative and useful.

My Offices

Oakland Medical Center
Appt/Advice: 510-752-1190

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Overview

Cholesterol is a fatlike substance made by the body that is found naturally in animal-based foods. Your body needs it for hormone and vitamin production and to support brain function. The levels in your blood are determined by family genetics and by your diet and lifestyle.

There are many types of cholesterol, but 2 that are frequently measured are:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), often called "bad" cholesterol
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL), often called "good" cholesterol

When bad, or LDL, cholesterol levels are too high, or when good, or HDL, levels are too low, blood fats can build up on the blood vessels. If the buildup on the blood vessels (called plaque) ruptures or becomes too narrow, this can decrease the flow of blood to vital organs such as your heart and brain.

There is an additional type of fat found in your blood, called triglycerides. Triglycerides differ from cholesterol in that they supply energy, while cholesterol builds certain hormones. But, like cholesterol, high triglycerides can also lead to heart and blood vessel problems. Cholesterol and triglyceride levels are measured by simple blood tests.

The best ways to keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the healthy range are by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, and not smoking. Some people will need medications to lower their cholesterol. 

The best treatment plan for you will be determined by:

  • Your cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Your risks for cardiovascular disease
  • Your ability to make healthy lifestyle changes

Screening and Diagnosis

Screening for cholesterol is generally done by a blood test obtained after you’ve fasted for 12 hours. When you fast, you have nothing to eat or drink except water and any medication you take. If you have diabetes, check with us before fasting.

The blood test for screening your cholesterol will be more complete if you fast, but if you are not fasting, you can get the total cholesterol, HDL, and LDL, without the triglycerides, done at any time.

Target ranges for most adults are:

  • Total cholesterol. Less than 200. 
  • LDL cholesterol. Less than 100.
  • HDL cholesterol. 60 and above.
  • Triglycerides. 100.

A healthy range for you may vary depending on your risk factors and total cholesterol profile.

Causes and Prevention

Blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides are influenced by family genetics as well as by your lifestyle.

Making healthy lifestyle choices helps prevent high LDL and triglyceride levels, and raises HDL levels. These good choices include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting plenty of exercise
  • Not smoking

Medications may also be used to manage your cholesterol.

Additional References:

Why Treatment Is Important

The goal of treatment is to lower your levels of LDL and triglycerides as well as increase your HDL to prevent damage to blood vessels over time. When you are treated for high cholesterol, you can avoid many of its damaging effects on your body.

Without treatment, high levels of bad cholesterol cause cholesterol particles to stick to the artery walls and form plaque. Over time, this condition can significantly narrow the arteries and harden the walls of the blood vessels. This process is called atherosclerosis.

The best treatment plan for you needs to address your risk factors as well as your cholesterol levels. The goal is to prevent damage to your heart or blood vessels and to lower your blood fats.

High cholesterol and pregnancy

If you have high cholesterol and want to get pregnant, please talk to us, as some cholesterol medications can cause birth defects. It is best to be at a healthy weight and have your cholesterol under good control before trying to get pregnant. If you are a woman of childbearing age (15 to 49) and are not planning to get pregnant, use an effective form of birth control.

Risk for Heart Attack and Stroke

A lack of blood and oxygen reaching the heart can cause chest pain (angina) or a heart attack. 

More often, accumulated fat deposits become unstable and break loose. When this happens, a blood clot forms in the damaged area, blocking the blood flow. If the artery bringing blood to the brain is blocked, a stroke occurs.

Even when your total cholesterol is normal, low levels of HDL (good cholesterol) put you at increased risk for heart attacks and hardening of the arteries. This is because good cholesterol is also necessary to prevent the harmful buildup of fatty deposits. 

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes such as losing weight, changing your diet, and getting regular physical activity can help keep your cholesterol in a healthy range. Medications may also be necessary, if you are at high risk for a heart attack or other blood vessel problems.

To help control your cholesterol, you will need to:

  • Maintain a healthy weight by eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Limit your alcohol and sugar intake.

If you need medication in addition to making changes in your lifestyle, take medication exactly as directed and do not stop taking it until you discuss it with us first.

 

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Losing as little as 10 pounds can help increase your good cholesterol levels.

  • Choose foods low in fat and high in fiber. Whole-grain foods, fruits, and vegetables provide fiber. Oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, bran cereals, brown rice, and corn tortillas are good examples of low-fat, high-fiber foods.
  • Read food labels. Compare the nutrition information of similar food products when you shop. Foods with less than 3 grams of fat in a serving are considered low-fat.
  • Limit your intake of meat, eggs, full-fat cheese, and whole milk. Low-fat or nonfat milk and dairy products are fine.
  • Eat fish twice a week. Studies show that a diet rich in omega-3s, which can be found in fish, may help increase good cholesterol. Omega-3s may also prevent blood from clotting. (Pregnant and nursing mothers should eat no more than 6 ounces of fish per week.)
  • Cook with mono-unsaturated fats. These fats are found in olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocados, and many nuts. Use in moderation, since fat is very high in calories and using too much (even healthy fats) will make you gain weight.
  • Limit foods with saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. Trans fats are manufactured fats that appear in many processed foods and margarine. Trans fats also increase your risk for heart disease because they lower good (HDL) cholesterol.

Exercise Regularly

When you exercise, your body burns more calories and builds more muscle. Muscle, in turn, burns more calories than fat. So, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body uses all day, every day, helping you to maintain or reach a healthy weight.

When you start an exercise program, start slowly and build up gradually:

  • Start with 10 minutes of daily physical activity like walking, bicycling, or swimming.
  • Gradually increase your exercise sessions to at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise on most days.

Stop Smoking

If you smoke, becoming a nonsmoker may be the most important thing you can do for your health. Smoking lowers HDL, or good cholesterol, and raises triglycerides. 

There are many ways to stop smoking. Visit or call your local Health Education Center for more information on smoking cessation programs.

Limit Your Sugar and Alcohol Intake

Follow the guidelines for improving cholesterol. In addition:

Limit your alcohol intake to 2 drinks per week.

  • One drink is equal to 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
  • If your triglycerides are above 500, avoid alcohol entirely.

Limit your sugar intake.

  • Avoid sodas with sugar.
  • Limit drinking fruit juice to 4 ounces per day.
  • Avoid baked goods such as cookies and pastries, including fat-free versions.
  • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range.

Medications

The decision to recommend medications depends on your risk for heart disease and stroke, which can be determined by evaluating your risk factors and cholesterol levels. We will work with you to find the medications that will work best for you. Making lifestyle changes is still very important, even if you take medications.

Statin Medications

Statins are a class of medications that work to protect your heart and blood vessels. In December 2013, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released new guidelines to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Kaiser Permanente physician experts have reviewed the latest evidence and agree with the recommendations of other national organizations. These recommendations indicate that using a statin medication at the right dose protects your heart and cardiovascular system if you are 40 years of age or older and have diabetes, or if you have any history of heart attack, stroke, bypass surgery, and/or peripheral arterial disease.

Although it is an important part of your medical treatment, taking a statin medication by itself is not enough to prevent heart attack and stroke. It's common to take other medications in addition to a statin drug to keep your heart healthy and prevent heart attack and stroke. We will work with you to help determine which medications will work best in your individual case.

Statin medications and pregnancy

Statin medications should not be taken by women who are trying to get pregnant or are at risk for pregnancy because they can cause birth defects. You must be using a highly reliable method of birth control if you are taking certain medications for high cholesterol.

Side effects

Most people who take this medication have few or no side effects. Some people experience mild muscle aches, upset stomach, gas, constipation, abdominal pain, or cramps. Severe muscle pain is a very rare side effect. If you experience severe muscle pain or severe weakness, contact us immediately.

To reduce your chances of experiencing side effects:

  • Avoid eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation: 2 or fewer drinks a day for men, and 1 or fewer for women. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
  • Avoid taking statins if you have severe liver or kidney damage.
Other medications

Depending on your situation, we may prescribe other medications to help protect your heart health.

Additional References:

Your Care with Me

I can order a cholesterol screening test for you at the appropriate time, based on your risk factors.

If your cholesterol is higher than the recommended target for your risk factors, I will work with you to help improve it. We will discuss changes in your lifestyle to help you achieve the target. I recommend that you review our related health tools and classes for programs that may help you learn about your cholesterol, increase physical activity, eat healthier, quit smoking, and maintain a healthy weight.

If necessary, I will prescribe medication. If you are taking medication for high cholesterol, we recommend that you get a blood test at least once a year. Clinical pharmacists are available for added help with medication adjustments. As we continue to monitor your cholesterol and medication levels, we may send you for follow-up tests and make adjustments as needed.

You can connect with me in a variety of ways, depending on the situation and what is most convenient for you at the time. I am available online, by telephone, or in person.

  • For non-urgent questions or concerns, you can e-mail me using this site. You can also book an appointment online to see me in person.
  • If your concerns are immediate, or you simply prefer to use the telephone, please call our Appointment and Advice line which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our advice nurses can give you immediate advice, and our telephone staff can send me a message or book an appointment for you.  
If you are experiencing an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.

If you need to talk with me after your visit or procedure, please call my office. If you are a Kaiser Permanente member, you can also send a secure e-mail message to me with non-urgent issues from this website whenever it is convenient for you.

If you have urgent concerns or issues while my office is closed, or need general medical advice, you can call the Appointment and Advice line, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You will be connected with a nurse who can give you immediate advice.

If you are experiencing an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.

Related Health Tools:

Classes and Coaching
Interactive Programs
Videos

See more Health Tools »

If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder.

This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.

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