Definition and Overview

High cholesterol is a condition that refers to increased levels of the waxy substance in the body’s fats. While cholesterol is needed by the body to build healthy cells, it can also cause some negative effects if it is present in amounts greater than what the body needs for normal functioning. A high amount of cholesterol in the body causes fatty deposits to form in the blood vessels and can potentially cause clogs or obstructions, which may make it harder for blood to flow through the arteries. Also, as cholesterol builds up in them, the arteries tend to harden, causing yet another condition known as atherosclerosis. This disease causes heart-related problems as it restricts the blood flow, which, if left untreated, may lead to stroke or heart attack. A stroke occurs when the brain does not get an adequate supply of blood and oxygen, while a heart attack occurs when the heart does not receive a sufficient supply of oxygen to function properly.

Causes of Condition

The main cause of high cholesterol is the existence of a high amount of fatty lipids in the blood vessels. Cholesterol is present in the blood and, therefore, gets combined with other proteins in the body. The combination of proteins and cholesterol is called lipoprotein. The type of lipoprotein carrying the fatty lipids determines the different types of cholesterol. These include the following:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) - Low-density lipoprotein or LDL is known as the bad type of cholesterol that causes the hardening of the arteries leading to problems in blood flow. This type of cholesterol places a person at the greatest risk of developing heart problems or stroke.

  • Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) - VLDL contains a huge amount of fats called triglycerides, which can become attached to proteins and cause LDL cholesterol to increase in size. Although VLDL itself is not the cause of high cholesterol problems, it has an aggravating effect on a person’s existing cholesterol problem. Thus, having a high level of VLDL in addition to LDL cholesterol will require additional medication for the patient.

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) - HDL is the type of cholesterol that is good for the body. It collects excess cholesterol and brings it back to the liver.

There are many factors that affect the levels of cholesterol in the body, and these factors can be controlled and managed continuously. Inactivity and an unhealthy diet are some of the factors that can cause the level of LDL cholesterol to rise and the level of HDL to drop. While the most common cause of high cholesterol or hypercholesterolemia is an unhealthy lifestyle, there are some cases in which it is inherited. Some people tend to be more susceptible to the disease because their genetic makeup makes it hard for their blood to eliminate LDL cholesterol or because their liver produces more cholesterol than normal.

Key Symptoms

High cholesterol does not normally show symptoms, but it is the cause of other serious and chronic health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Once certain arteries and blood vessels begin to collect LDL cholesterol, the person may start feeling some symptoms such as shortness of breath. Some may also experience chest pains once the heart problems caused by high cholesterol set in.

In addition, high cholesterol levels may also cause some pain in different parts of the body, which can mislead a person into thinking that the problem is not related to the heart. When certain arteries are blocked, parts of the body connected to them may experience some pain. For example, if there is a blockage in the leg arteries, this can cause pain while walking. Unfortunately, these symptoms usually manifest themselves only after the damage has occurred. As high cholesterol doesn’t have symptoms, there is no other way to detect the disease other than by having regular blood screening.

Who to See and Types of Treatments Available

It is advisable for everyone to see a doctor for a baseline cholesterol test as early as age 20. It is good to be sure of one’s good health whether or not there are symptoms that are being experienced. High cholesterol is treatable and preventable, so being checked regularly will help a lot in possibly treating or preventing the disease from causing further health troubles. After the initial baseline test, it is best to get retested at least once every five years or more frequently if the initial results suggest a higher risk for the disease. Having regular check-ups is especially advisable for people whose family has a history of high cholesterol, heart problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure, as well as for those who are smoking.

Doctors nowadays guarantee that treatments for high cholesterol work and can thus help a person keep heart diseases at bay and live normally. They are also effective in keeping symptoms under control. While nothing can be done about one’s genetic makeup, and it is not possible to erase the effects of unhealthy lifestyle choices when damage has already been done, the right kind of treatment can prevent further peril. High cholesterol treatments are capable of directly lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke that can lead to death.

However, these treatments must be taken seriously and not for granted. They can make genuine life-saving changes in one’s health if the patient cooperates and works closely with his physician. As part of high cholesterol treatment, doctors recommend making healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating the right food with low cholesterol levels and exercising regularly. However, these lifestyle changes work best with proper medication. A combination of staying faithful to a healthy lifestyle and being consistent with medication is the best treatment for high cholesterol and its dangers. Patients must therefore carefully discuss treatment options with their doctors. Since treatments may work differently for each person, doctors specializing in the management of ongoing cholesterol problem often personalize the treatment plan, tailoring it according to the patient’s needs and specific condition.

References:

  • Ravnskov U. (2003). “High Cholesterol May Protect Against Infections and Atherosclerosis.” Oxford Journals
  • Adams D. (2011). “The Great Cholesterol Myth; Unfortunate Consequences of Brown and Goldstein’s Mistake.” Oxford Journals
  • Ohashi R., Mu H., Wang X., Yao Q., Chen C. (2005). “Reverse Cholesterol Transport and Cholesterol Efflux in Atherosclerosis.” Oxford Journals
  • Green R., Kwok S., Durrington P. (2002). “Preventing Cardiovascular Disease in Hypertension: Effects of Lowering Blood Pressure and Cholesterol.” Oxford Journals
  • Humphries S.E., Talmud P.J., Cox C., Sutherland W., Mann J. (1996). “Genetic Factors Affecting the Consistency and Magnitude of Changes in Plasma Cholesterol in Response to Dietary Challenge.” Oxford Journals.
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