High cholesterol, or hypercholesterolemia, is a topic that is brought up at the doctor's office quite a bit. Heart disease continues to be a leading cause of death in the United States and other countries. Many people may have high cholesterol without knowing that they have it or the negative effects it has on their health. Diet and physical exercise are significant contributors to the overall quality and quantity of life. High cholesterol levels in the blood can lead to long-term complications such as heart disease and stroke. Having high cholesterol doesn't bring about obvious signs and symptoms, so it is important to follow the levels with a doctor. Diet does play a role, but genetic predisposition and family history also are contributory factors. Many people may ask that if high levels of cholesterol don't present with any visible and acute signs and symptoms, is it really that damaging to their body?
Answer: Immediate effects may not be noticed, but high cholesterol causes long term damage
People can live asymptomatically with high cholesterol levels and can ultimately not see serious diseases like heart attacks and stroke while having a history of high cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy structure that your body needs to build healthy cells and is a building block for many hormones in the body. The body requires it for normal function, and it is produced by the liver or consumed in food.
It is not possible to live with zero cholesterol. However, too much of anything often can lead to adverse side effects. Cholesterol tends to build up in the walls of arteries and become known as plaque. The plaque size will affect how much blood passes through the arteries over a given amount of time. If the plaques build up in the walls of arteries leading to the brain or the heart, it can lead to a stroke or heart attack, respectively.
Reducing cholesterol levels in the blood has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke. It is also important to note the type of cholesterol that needs to be lowered. There are two types of cholesterol that are important in the cholesterol pathway. It is more commonly known as good cholesterol or HDL and bad cholesterol or LDL. In the biosynthetic pathway of cholesterol, HDL helps reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood by bringing it back to the liver to be used by the body. At the same time, LDL transports cholesterol from the liver and into the bloodstream. LDL, or the bad cholesterol, is the cholesterol that is of importance to be reduced. But it is just as essential to keep the HDL or good cholesterol up.
Cholesterol levels can be controlled through diet, lifestyle, exercise, and medication. Regular physical exams and lab work help monitor progress and help discover what methods work and don't work for each patient. Typically, being fit and at a healthy weight are a big help. Aerobic exercise is much more effective at reducing weight. Aerobic exercises include running, swimming, biking, or climbing. Eating a diet that is lower in saturated fats and animal products can also reduce the amount of cholesterol the body takes in from the diet. Doctors can prescribe medications such as statins to patients to reduce the levels of cholesterol in the blood.
Overall for patients, the goal of lowering cholesterol levels is to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which includes coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, and peripheral vascular disease. It is important to note that many other risk factors contribute to these diseases that are controllable and not controllable. These risk factors include age, gender, family history, and smoking history. The decision on what type of treatment modality to use is on a case-by-case basis and is best discussed between the patient and doctor. A doctor will take into consideration other risk factors that affect long-term health outcomes and will tailor the best treatment option for each patient.
This article is just a brief overview of the health effects of high cholesterol. There are many valuable and rich resources that go into detail to help people understand hypercholesterolemia and how to manage it. Below are some of these high-value resources.
- Family Doctor - Familydoctor.org is a consistent provider of information to people looking to learn more about their health. This article attempts to educate on the many aspects of cholesterol and cholesterol based health.
- American Heart Association – The American Heart Association is another high-value resource that offers a diet plan guide to help educate how to prepare meals that aid in the lowering of cholesterol.
- Healthline – Healthline is a trusted resource that gives a general overview of cholesterol and goes into summary about the types of cholesterol, normal levels, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment modalities.