Introduction to High Cholesterol
This is one of the commonest causes of arterial disease, heart attacks and death in the Western World.
What is High Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a lipid within the body that is fatty. It is normal within the body and has several important functions. There are two main types of proteins in the blood that carry cholesterol and these are called high and low density lipoproteins. The high density variety is generally thought of as ‘good’, as it transports cholesterol to the liver where it is broken down or excreted. On the contrary, the ‘bad’ low density lipoproteins transport cholesterol to the cells when there an excess. This can cause deposition around the body and cause problems such as atherosclerosis; this is when the cholesterol is deposited in artery walls, causing them to become narrowed. This is one of the commonest causes of arterial disease, heart attacks and death in the Western World.
What causes High Cholesterol?
High cholesterol within the blood can be caused by many things. Lifestyle factors such as diet, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to hypercholesterolaemia as well as medical conditions such as kidney and liver disease, hypothyroidism, diabetes and hypertension. Occasionally, high cholesterol runs in families due to certain genetic mutations (1 in 500) – this is called familial hypercholesterolaemia. There are different types of cholesterol and high cholesterol generally refers to excess amounts of the ‘bad type’ (low density lipoproteins).
What are the symptoms of High Cholesterol?
Usually there are no symptoms as a result of having high cholesterol. However, there are secondary effects as a results of having excess cholesterol deposition (e.g. in artery walls) that can have huge impacts on health and commonly cause heart attacks, strokes and death.
How is High Cholesterol treated?
Improving diet is one of the best things you can do to manage cholesterol levels. Removing certain foods from your diet can reduce your intake of cholesterol (e.g. saturated fats). There are also foods that can help lower levels of bad cholesterol. Doctors will provide education and advice on how and why to change your diet. Increasing exercise can reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and also reducing body weight if you are obese. Stopping excess alcohol consumption and smoking can reduce the intake and levels of bad cholesterol within the blood and help maintain low levels. Strictly managing other health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension can lead to an overall healthier lifestyle. There are also factors that increase the chance of having high cholesterol that you cannot change such as family history, getting older, being from higher risk ethnic groups and being male. Alongside these lifestyle changes, Doctors can prescribe medication that lowers cholesterol, called statins. They are relatively safe medications but like all drugs, they have side effects. Regular blood tests from the Doctor will help you keep track of your cholesterol and monitor progress.