Do you have high cholesterol, also known as hypercholesterolemia? Abnormal cholesterol levels such as high LDL cholesterol or low HDL cholesterol are a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. An unhealthy diet can cause high cholesterol. Sometimes high cholesterol runs in families. A low-cholesterol diet can help improve cholesterol levels. If the low-cholesterol diet does not work to lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medications.
The Basics of Cholesterol
Have you been diagnosed with high cholesterol? Is lowering your cholesterol a goal? The first step is to find out: What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and other cells and found in certain foods, such as food from animals, like dairy products, eggs, and meat.
The body needs some cholesterol in order to function properly. Its cell walls, or membranes, need cholesterol in order to produce hormones, vitamin D, and the bile acids that help to digest fat. But the body needs only a limited amount of cholesterol to meet its needs. When too much is present health problems such as heart disease may develop.
Cholesterol and Heart Disease
When too much cholesterol is present, plaque (a thick, hard deposit) may form in the body's arteries narrowing the space for blood to flow to the heart. Over time, this buildup causes atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which can lead to heart disease.
When not enough oxygen-carrying blood reaches the heart chest pain -- called angina -- can result. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by total blockage of a coronary artery, the result is a heart attack. This is usually due to a sudden closure from a blood clot forming on top of a previous narrowing.
Types of Cholesterol
Cholesterol travels through the blood attached to a protein -- this cholesterol-protein package is called a lipoprotein. Lipoproteins are classified as high density, low density, or very low density, depending on how much protein there is in relation to fat.
Low density lipoproteins (LDL): LDL, also called "bad" cholesterol, can cause buildup of plaque on the walls of arteries. The more LDL there is in the blood, the greater the risk of heart disease.
High density lipoproteins (HDL): HDL, also called "good" cholesterol, helps the body get rid of bad cholesterol in the blood. The higher the level of HDL cholesterol, the better. If your levels of HDL are low, your risk of heart disease increases.
Very low density lipoproteins (VLDL): VLDL is similar to LDL cholesterol in that it contains mostly fat and not much protein.
Triglycerides: Triglycerides are another type of fat that is carried in the blood by very low density lipoproteins. Excess calories, alcohol, or sugar in the body are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells throughout the body.
What Factors Affect Cholesterol Levels?
A variety of factors can affect your cholesterol levels. They include:
Diet. Saturated fat and cholesterol in the food you eat increase cholesterol levels. Try to reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet.
Weight. In addition to being a risk factor for heart disease, being overweight can also increase your cholesterol. Losing weight can help lower your LDL and total cholesterol levels, as well as increase HDL cholesterol.
Exercise. Regular exercise can lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. You should try to be physically active for 30 minutes on most days.
Age and Gender. As we get older, cholesterol levels rise. Before menopause, women tend to have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After menopause, however, women's LDL levels tend to rise.
Diabetes. Poorly controlled diabetes increases cholesterol levels. With improvements in control, cholesterol levels can fall.
Heredity. Your genes partly determine how much cholesterol your body makes. High blood cholesterol can run in families.
Other causes. Certain medications and medical conditions can cause high cholesterol.
High Cholesterol Risk Factors
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and found in certain foods, such as from animals, like dairy products, eggs, and meat. The body needs some cholesterol in order to function properly. However, too much cholesterol can increase a person's risk of developing heart disease. There are several factors that contribute to high cholesterol -- some are controllable while others are not.
Uncontrollable High Cholesterol Risk Factors:i
Gender: After menopause, a woman's LDL-cholesterol level ("bad" cholesterol) goes up, as does her risk for heart disease.
Age: Your risk increases as you get older. Men aged 45 years or older and women aged 55 years or older are at increased risk of high cholesterol.
Family history: Your risk increases if a father or brother was affected by early heart disease (before age 55) or a mother or sister was affected by early heart disease (before age 65).
Controllable Risk Factors for High Cholesterol Include:
Diet: The saturated fat and cholesterol in the food you eat raise total and LDL-cholesterol levels.
Weight: Being overweight can make your LDL-cholesterol level go up and your HDL level go down.
Physical activity/exercise: Increased physical activity helps to lower LDL- cholesterol and raise HDL-cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) levels. It also helps you lose weight.
Symptoms & Types
There are no symptoms of high cholesterol. But if you have high cholesterol and other disease risk factors, there can be serious health complications.
Cholesterol, Heart Disease, and Other Health Problems
There’s a link between high cholesterol and heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other health problems. Here’s why it’s important that you lower your cholesterol
Diagnosis & Tests
A cholesterol blood test is the first step in diagnosing high cholesterol. We’ll help you understand your test results.
Treatment & Care
Doctors emphasize diet, exercise, and weight loss to reduce cholesterol. Medications are another important option to lower heart disease risk