What is High Cholesterol? Causes & Treatment

Understanding High Cholesterol

High cholesterol is a condition when a person has too much fatty substances in the blood. Too much of this compound can clog blood vessels putting a person at risk of heart problems or stroke.

You need to understand, cholesterol is a sterol (fat) type component that you can find in most body tissues.

This compound and its derivatives are important components of cell membranes and are precursors of steroid components.

However, an increase in one type of cholesterol, namely low-density lipoprotein (LDL), is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

Causes of High Cholesterol

Blood is what carries these compounds attached to proteins. This combination of protein and cholesterol is called lipoprotein.

There are different types of cholesterol, based on what the lipoproteins carry. Among them:

  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, transports cholesterol particles throughout the body. It builds up on the walls of the arteries, making them hard and narrow.
  • High density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL, or “good” cholesterol, takes excess cholesterol and brings it back to the liver.

A lipid profile also usually measures triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. Having high triglyceride levels can also increase the risk of heart disease.

Apart from that, there are also medical conditions that can cause unhealthy cholesterol levels, including:

  • Chronic kidney disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Lupus.

The levels of this compound can also worsen due to the use of several types of drugs that you may take to treat other health problems, such as:

  • Pimple.
  • Cancer.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Irregular heart rhythm.
  • Organ transplantation.

Risk Factors

There are several risks that put a person at risk for high cholesterol. Some of them are:

  • Unhealthy diet. Consuming saturated fats, which you often find in animal products, and trans fats, which you can find in some pastries and biscuits, can increase levels of this compound.
  • Obesity. Having a body mass index (BMI) over 30 can put a person at risk.
  • Lack of Exercise. Physical activity or exercise can help increase good cholesterol in the body (HDL), and reduce the risk of increasing bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body.
  • Smoke. Cigarettes can damage the walls of blood vessels, making them more susceptible to fat accumulation. Smoking can also reduce HDL levels in the body.
  • Age. Because body chemistry changes with age, the risk of experiencing this condition increases.
  • Diabetes. High blood sugar levels can also increase cholesterol. As a result, this may worsen the condition.

Symptoms of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol has no symptoms. Blood tests are the only way to detect it.

However, in most situations, this condition can trigger an emergency. For example, a heart attack or stroke can occur due to damage caused by high levels of this compound.

Even though it rarely shows symptoms, there are signs of high cholesterol that are often ignored.

High Cholesterol Diagnosis

Doctors can detect this condition with a blood test such as a lipoprotein profile or lipid panel.

This test requires you to fast, for 10 to 12 hours or more before taking the test.

A lipid panel examination will give you information about

  • Total cholesterol
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL)
  • Triglycerides

Doctors can measure total cholesterol levels in the blood in milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL.

For adults with a healthy body, the total cholesterol level that doctors recommend is 200 mg/dL or less.

Meanwhile, the normal (LDL) level is less than 100 mg/dL, and the ideal HDL level is more than 60 mg/dL.

Not only cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels will also be checked. The recommended triglyceride level is below 150 mg/dL.

Not only in hospitals or clinical laboratories, now you can also check high cholesterol from home.

How to Lower High Cholesterol

Lifestyle changes such as exercising and eating healthy food are the first ways to reduce high cholesterol that you should do.

If the lifestyle has been changed, but the condition does not improve, the doctor can prescribe the following medication:

  • Statins, for example atorvastatin and rosuvastatin.
  • Bile-acid-binding resins, for example cholestyramine and colesevelam.
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors, for example ezetimibe.
  • Bempedoic acid.
  • PCSK9 inhibitors, for example alirocumab and evolocumab.

Prevention of High Cholesterol

Here are some ways you can prevent it:

  • Low salt diet, eating lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Limit consumption of animal fats.
  • Get ideal body weight.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Regular exercise.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Manage stress.​

​Complications of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol can cause the accumulation of dangerous cholesterol and other deposits on the walls of the arteries (atherosclerosis).

This buildup (plaque) can obstruct blood flow through the arteries and cause complications, such as:

  • Chest pain. If the arteries that supply blood to the heart (coronary arteries) are affected, you may experience chest pain (angina) and other symptoms of coronary artery disease.
  • Heart attack. If a plaque tears or breaks, a blood clot can form at the site of the plaque rupture. Thus, it blocks blood flow or ruptures, blocking downstream arteries. If blood flow to the heart stops, you will experience a heart attack.
  • Strokes. Similar to a heart attack, a stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to part of the brain.

When Should You See a Doctor?

If you or a family member is at high risk of this condition, immediately contact a doctor for an examination to determine your health condition.

Don’t hesitate to see a doctor to find out whether you need to undergo a test.

Children and young adults without risk factors for heart disease usually need testing at least once between ages 9 and 11, and again between ages 17 and 19.

Retesting for adults without risk factors for heart disease is usually done every five years.

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