Disease, Condition & InjuryHeart & blood

High cholesterol

(Cholesterol, High; Hypercholesterolemia)

High cholesterol – Definition

Cholesterol is a type of lipid in the blood. High cholesterol is an abnormally high level of cholesterol in the blood.

There are different types of cholesterol in your blood including:

  • Low density lipoproteins (LDL) — causes build up of cholesterol and other fats in the blood vessels. Known as bad cholesterol because high levels can cause disease in the arteries and heart disease.
  • High density lipoproteins (HDL) — can remove cholesterol and other fats from the blood. Known as good cholesterol because it may protect against heart disease.

High cholesterol – Causes

Causes of high cholesterol include:

  • Genetics
  • High-fat diet
  • Overweight
  • Sedentary lifestyle

High cholesterol – Risk Factors

These factors may increase your chance of high cholesterol:

  • Age: cholesterol levels tend to rise with age
  • Sex:
    • Males
    • Females after menopause
  • Family members with high cholesterol
  • High-fat diet
  • Obesity, overweight
  • Sedentary lifestyle

High cholesterol – Symptoms

It is rare for high cholesterol to cause symptoms. However, high cholesterol can increase your risk of atherosclerosis. This is a dangerous hardening of the arteries. It can block the flow of blood. In some cases, a blocked or slowed blood flow may cause:

  • Angina
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Other serious complications

Some people with high cholesterol may also have cholesterol deposits in tendons, under the eyes, or in the eye.

High cholesterol – Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor will ask about factors that may increase your risk of heart disease or stroke. A physical exam will be done.

A blood test will also be done. Blood will be sent to a lab to measure lipid levels in your blood including:

  • Total cholesterol
  • HDL cholesterol
  • LDL cholesterol
  • Triglycerides

Your doctor may do other tests to look for other conditions that can be associated with high cholesterol levels.

High cholesterol – Treatment

Treatment is aimed at decreasing your cholesterol levels. Your doctor will also make recommendations to help you manage other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

Nutritional Changes

Talk to your doctor about the best meal plan for you. Consider the following changes:

  • Balance the amount of calories you are eating with the amount of calories you use through physical activity and basic body functions. This will help you reach or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables.
  • Include foods that are whole grain and high in fiber.
  • Eat fish at least twice per week.
  • Limit foods with saturated fats, trans fats, or cholesterol.
  • Avoid processed and refined sugars and starches. This includes white bread, white potatoes, white rice and simple sugars like soda.
  • Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. This means two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Begin a safe exercise program with the advice of your doctor.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • If you are overweight, lose weight.
  • Make sure other medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes are being treated and controlled.

Cholesterol-Lowering Medication

Your doctor may prescribe medication. They will help lower your cholesterol.. Examples include:

  • Statins — have been shown to reduce mortality (death), heart attacks, and stroke. Examples include:
    • Lovastatin (Mevacor)
    • Pravastatin (Pravachol)
    • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
    • Simvastatin (Zocor)
    • Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
  • Gemfibrozil (Lopid)
  • Fenofibrate (Tricor)
  • Cholestyramine (Questran)
  • Colestipol (Colestid)
  • Niacin (Niacor)
  • Ezetimibe (Zetia)

These medicines are best used as additions to diet and exercise. They should not be use in place of healthy lifestyle changes.

High cholesterol – Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting high cholesterol, follow the lifestyle and nutrition changes above.

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