Why Is High Cholesterol A Problem?
Blood cholesterol is a fatty substance that the body uses to make membranes in cells and for hormone production. It travels through the bloodstream and is used by the tissues for normal function. When blood cholesterol is high, it forms plaque, causing inflammation; the plaque builds up in the walls of arteries narrowing the openings for blow flow. Over time, the heart may not get enough oxygen, leading to coronary artery disease, heart attack or stroke.
What Are High-Risk Factors For High Cholesterol?
How your cholesterol numbers affect your heart health depends on other risk factors for heart attack and stroke. The following risk factors could apply:
- A man 45 years of age or older, or a woman 55 years of age or older
- Family history of heart problems before the age of 55 in male relatives or age 65 in female relatives; this includes heart attack, coronary heart disease or atherosclerosis
- High blood pressure; taking medication to treat high blood pressure
- Exercising very little or not often; recommendations are for 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. If cardiovascular exercise is not being done as often as these recommendations, it may not be enough, and a higher risk for elevated cholesterol and heart disease may occur
- Eating a diet that is high in saturated or trans fats, cholesterol, sugar or alcohol may increase the risk for heart disease
How Is High Cholesterol Diagnosed?
Cholesterol testing most often needs no preparation; sometimes you may be asked not to eat before your test. A blood sample is taken and sent to a lab. There, the amount of cholesterol and triglyceride in your blood is measured where there are two types of cholesterol in the sample. The first is the HDL, the "good cholesterol" and the second is the LDL, the "bad cholesterol." These test results are most often shown as the total of HDL and LDL cholesterol numbers; you may be told the separate HDL and LDL cholesterol results, as well.
If your cholesterol levels are higher than normal, your physician will guide you with steps to lower your levels. Steps may include lifestyle changes like diet, physical activity and quitting smoking. Medication can be suggested, as well, to lower bad cholesterol levels. If you have high cholesterol, you may need your level tested more often to make sure your medication and lifestyle changes are working to reduce your risks of having a heart attacked or stroke.