High Cholesterol

Overview

Found in your blood, cholesterol is a waxy substance your body needs in order to build healthy cells. High levels of cholesterol increase your heart disease risk. If you have high cholesterol your blood vessels may develop fatty deposits. These deposits grow eventually, making it difficult for blood to flow through your arteries, if those deposits suddenly break and form a clot they can lead to a stroke or heart attack. High cholesterol is usually the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices which means it is preventable and treatable though in some cases it can be inherited. To reduce high cholesterol you can use regular exercise, a healthy diet, and sometimes medication.

Signs and Symptoms

There are no symptoms for high cholesterol; a blood test is the only way to determine if you have it.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Cholesterol attaches to proteins and is carried through your blood. Lipoprotein is the name for this combination of cholesterol and protein. Based on what the lipoprotein carries there are different types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) (“bad” cholesterol that builds up in the walls of your arteries), and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) (“good” cholesterol that picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.

Controllable factors such as obesity, unhealthy diet, and inactivity contribute to high cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol. Factors outside of your control can also play a factor. For example your genetic makeup can cause your liver to produce too much cholesterol or can keep your cells from removing LDL cholesterol from your blood.

Risk factors that can contribute to your risk of bad cholesterol include: obesity, poor diet, smoking, lack of exercise, diabetes, and age.

High cholesterol can lead to a dangerous build up of cholesterol and other deposits on your artery walls. These deposits are called plaques and can reduce blood flow in the arteries which can cause complications such as: stroke, heart attack, or chest pain.

You can prevent high cholesterol and lower your cholesterol levels by: eating a low-salt diet emphasizing vegetables, fruit, and whole grains, limiting animal fats and using good fats in moderation, quit smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercise frequently aiming for 30 minutes per day, manage stress, drink alcohol in moderation.

If you’ve made these lifestyle changes and haven’t seen your levels lower enough your doctor may prescribe medication. The medication prescribed will depend on various factors including your age, health, possible side effects, and personal risk factors. Common medications include: bile-acid-binding resins, statins, cholesterol absorption inhibitors, or injectable medications (PCSK9 inhibitors).