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Our bodies need cholesterol to function. Cholesterol resides in the blood as a waxy substance. The body uses cholesterol to build new, healthy cells. However, too much cholesterol can be detrimental to your health. It can also increase your risk of life-threatening conditions like heart disease. The medical terms for high cholesterol levels are hyperlipidemia, lipid disorder, or hypercholesterolemia.
When you have it, fatty deposits develop in the blood vessels. The deposits grow and, with time, the arteries narrow, causing blood not to flow as it should. Sometimes the fatty deposits break off, leading to a clot. This leaves you prone to stroke and heart attack. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, there is a chance that you might get it at some point in your life. Most of the time, however, the condition emanates from unhealthy lifestyles.
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Types of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is carried to and from body cells on proteins known as lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins in the body: low-density lipoprotein and high-density lipoprotein. Depending on the amount of each, you can either have good or bad cholesterol.
- High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL): HDL is good cholesterol and for good reason. It carries bad cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver, where it’s broken down and flushed from the body. High levels of good cholesterol lower your risk of stroke and heart disease.
- Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL): This is bad cholesterol. It makes up most of the body’s cholesterol levels. Large LDL levels increase your risk of stroke and heart disease. Too much low-density lipoprotein leads to build-ups in the arteries. When LDL combines with other substances in the body, it forms a plaque (aka atheroma). This is a hard deposit that narrows the arteries and makes it hard for them to expand. In turn, it leads to limited blood flow — a condition referred to as atherosclerosis. A heart attack or stroke may occur if a clot forms in the arteries.
- Triglycerides: These are the most common types of fat found in the body. Triglycerides store the excess energy you get from food. High levels of triglycerides with low HDL or high LDL can lead to fatty buildups in the arteries too.
Symptoms of High Cholesterol
Unlike other conditions, high cholesterol doesn’t cause any physical symptoms. Most people don’t realize until they suffer from a heart attack or stroke. It causes plaque to form in the arteries. Plaque ends up narrowing your arteries and even changing their lining makeup. This is what leads to serious complications like a stroke.
Diagnosis of High Cholesterol
Since it has no symptoms, there is no telling whether you have it until you go for a checkup. It is advisable to have your cholesterol levels checked every five years. A blood test is used to diagnose high cholesterol levels, where it indicates how much cholesterol is carried in your blood. The doctor might also order a lipid panel or profile. The panel shows things such as your total cholesterol, HDL levels, and LDL levels. It also indicates triglycerides, VLDL levels, non-HDL cholesterol, and HDL to cholesterol ratio. Sometimes special tests can be ordered. These tests break down the shapes and sizes of LDL cholesterol levels. The test then gives the LDL particle number.
Who should have their cholesterol checked?
- All men above the age of 35 and all women above 45
- Young men and women above the age of 20 who have heart disease risk factors
- Teens taking certain medications and those with family members who have been diagnosed with this.
Treatment of High Cholesterol
There are several ways of lowering high cholesterol:
Lifestyle Changes: This is the first thing that your doctor will suggest. Lifestyle changes, like eating a healthy diet and exercising, can lower your cholesterol.
Medication: If your cholesterol levels remain high, the doctor may prescribe certain medications. These include statins, cholesterol absorption inhibitors, bempedoic acid, bile acid sequestrants, and PCSK9 inhibitors.
High Cholesterol Management
If you have high cholesterol or are at high risk of it, you can manage and prevent it through solutions such as:
- Eating low-salt diets that include vegetables, whole grains, and fruits
- Consuming healthy fats and limiting the number of animal fats you consume
- Exercising regularly to maintain a healthy body weight
- Quitting smoking and minimizing alcohol consumption
- Managing stress
- Taking your prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication
- What are the risk factors for high cholesterol? Age, family history, obesity, smoking, high alcohol consumption, and a poor diet increase your risk of developing high cholesterol.
- How often should you go for a cholesterol check? If you are over 20 years, you should have your cholesterol levels checked at least once every four to six years. The frequency increases if you smoke, are overweight, or have a history of high cholesterol in the family.
- How can you lower cholesterol levels naturally? Besides exercising to lose weight, you also need to track your fat intake and switch to a high-fiber diet. Vegetables, fruits, poultry, fish, and whole grains are necessary for lowering your levels.
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!