An Overview of the Causes and Treatment of High Cholesterol

Dr. Amir

Cholesterol is a form of fat or lipid in the human body that our cells need. It is also the most common steroid found in the human body. The liver produces cholesterol but it can also be taken in the form of food. These foods with high cholesterol can also increase cholesterol levels in blood.

Uses of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is known as a building block for cell membranes and aids in the production of bile in the liver. This bile aids in fat digestion. Cholesterol is also necessary for the production of vitamin D, as well as other hormones and steroids such as progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen.

Too Much Cholesterol

Having too much cholesterol can cause the build up of plaque deposits in the arteries. This condition, also known as atherosclerosis or coronary heart disease, is a slow process that worsens with age. It increases the risk of stroke, circulation problems, heart attack, or even death.

This can best be demonstrated by thinking of a pipe that clogs up with matter much like what happens in a kitchen sink. The more cholesterol builds up, the more the arteries become clogged making it difficult for blood to be transported through them. In effect, body tissues receive less blood especially the heart. This can result to fatal conditions such as stroke or heart attack.

Artery Blockage

Blockage of the arteries takes place in many steps:

Firstly, the innermost layer or endothelium is damaged and cholesterol sticks to the damaged wall to form plaques.

Secondly, more cholesterol as well as other substances combine with the plaque making it increase in size and narrowing the opening of the artery.

Thirdly, plaque deposits increase in size to the point that it hampers the flow of blood in the artery.

Next, the heart, deprived of blood flow causes chest pain. When the leg blood vessels are blocked, leg pains are experienced. When arteries to the brain are clogged, stroke is imminent.

Lastly, when a plaque experiences tears or ruptures, blood clot develops. When this clot does not allow blood to flow through it, heart attack is sure to happen. If this happens to the brain, stroke becomes imminent.

Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol levels can be measured through a blood test.

A blood test that shows a cholesterol level of less than 200 is considered best. A cholesterol level of 200 to 239 is considered borderline-high. Lastly, a cholesterol level of 240 and above is considered high or extremely unhealthy.

Kinds of Cholesterol

  • Low-Density Lipoprotein

LDL or low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol is the kind that can clog or block arteries. People with high cholesterol should strive to decrease the amounts of LDL cholesterol.

  • High-Density Lipoprotein

HDL or high-density lipoprotein or good cholesterol helps filter out fat from the body. People with high levels of HDL are less prone to heart attack or other heart diseases.

  • Triglycerides

Triglycerides are a form of fat found in the blood. Having high levels of this cholesterol as well as high levels of LDL can increase the chances of having a stroke or heart attack.

Contrary to what some people believe, you do not feel sick when you have high cholesterol. You may find out too late that your cholesterol levels are unhealthy when your arteries are already clogged. Therefore it is very important that treatment be started even when you feel perfectly healthy and normal.

Causes of High Cholesterol

There are many factors that can cause high cholesterol levels. These include:

  • Food and Diet

Saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fat can increase cholesterol levels. Foods rich in cholesterol include meats, egg yolks, whole milk, cheese, and butter while foods rich in trans fats include cookies, chips, crackers, or other snack foods.

  • Weight

Overweight people tend to have higher cholesterol levels.

  • Physical Activity

The lack of physical activity can be detrimental to weight loss, which can be useless to controlling high cholesterol levels.

  • Age

People aged 20 and above start producing increased levels of cholesterol.

  • Family History

People with a family history of high cholesterol have higher chances of having the same.

  • Health

Certain diseases like hypothyroidism can result to abnormal and increase levels of cholesterol in the blood.

Testing For Cholesterol

There are many kinds of tests to measure cholesterol levels:

  • Fasting Cholesterol Test

A fasting cholesterol test is the most complete because it measures and records all fats in the blood. This includes HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. The patient must fast for 9 to 12 hours before the test is undertaken.

  • Direct LDL Test

The direct LDL test measures only the LDL level. No fasting is required before the testing is done.

  • Simple Cholesterol Test

This test measures the total cholesterol and HDL. There is no need for fasting before this test. In some cases, doctors undertake this test first.

Treatments of High Cholesterol

People with high cholesterol require treatment to lessen the chances of having a stroke or heart attack. The two best treatments of high cholesterol are medicine and lifestyle changes.

  • Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle Changes are very essential to make sure the patient learns to keep his cholesterol levels at bay even without the doctor's guidance. Some of these changes should include:

  • Healthy Diet

A healthy diet should include plenty of fruits and vegetables, fish, beans, healthy fats, as well as high-fiber grains and breads.

  • Weight Loss

Weight loss is very important for people with high cholesterol. Even a measly 5 to 10 pounds of weight lost can already mean so much to lower cholesterol levels. Aside from improving cholesterol levels, losing weight also helps lower blood pressure.

  • Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is a must even if not done daily. Walking for one, is simple, but is extremely effective and can easily be done. At least 30 minutes of exercise per day is more than enough to regulate levels of cholesterol.

  • Quitting Smoking

Quitting smoking not only improves the health of the heart, but also raises HDL levels. This may seem very difficult for some but it is very important.

Doing all these things may sound difficult if you are trying to lower your cholesterol levels but the real trick is to do them gradually. You may find it easier to start things small before submitting to great changes in your lifestyle.

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