Updated: 2019, Aug 17

What Causes High Cholesterol? (Prevention and Treatment)

Read the helpful tips on preventing and treating high cholesterol through lifestyle changes and medication.
High Cholesterol
High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart attacks and coronary heart disease. Shutterstock Images

High Cholesterol Overview

By definition, cholesterol is a wax-like substance found in the lipid components (fats) in the blood.

Although cholesterol is a necessary component of the body, a high amount of the same can increase your chances of developing heart diseases.

A higher level of cholesterol leads to fatty deposits in the blood vessels which in turn interfere with the blood flow.

Thus, the chances of suffering from a heart attack increases.

Signs and Symptoms of High Cholesterol

There are no symptoms of high cholesterol.

It can only be detected by a blood test.

The real symptoms they cause are medical emergencies such as a heart attack, stroke, etc.

This is why doctors recommend a full medical check-up twice a year.

It is time to seek medical help for high cholesterol when:

  • You have a family history of heart diseases, diabetes or blood pressure
  • The blood cholesterol level is above 240 decigrams/millilitre
  • You are obese

Typically, a simple case of high cholesterol does not cause any heart attack or such other medical emergencies.

Over time, a higher cholesterol level leads to the formation of plaques along the artery walls.

These plaque deposits gradually obstruct the blood flow by narrowing the arteries and over a period your heart receives very little or no oxygen-rich blood.

This is when a heart attack develops and you hit the panic button.

Some of the common symptoms, however, are as follows:

  • Chest pain.
  • Breathlessness.
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Numbness in extremities.
  • Sudden dizziness and loss of coordination or balance.
  • Confusion.
  • Severe blinding headache.
  • Inability to move especially just one side of the body.
  • Slurring of words.
  • Anxiety.
  • Thick toenails.
  • Toes are turning blue.
  • Reduced hair growth in the legs.
  • A colder one leg and another leg at normal temperature.

In rare cases, there are some signs indicating a high amount of cholesterol.

This is when people have more 300 mg/dl of cholesterol in their blood.

Such people exhibit cholesterol deposits under their eyelids, over the tendons, etc.

This condition is called xanthelasmas[1].

You May Also Want To Read – The Best Foods To Eat To Prevent Heart Disease

Types of High Cholesterol

There are a number of complications arising out of high cholesterol such as chest pain, heart attack, and stroke.

  • Chest Pain – The arteries supplying blood to your heart are called coronary arteries and when they get affected, it leads to chest pain or angina.
  • Heart Attack – When the plaque deposits along the walls of the arteries rupture, blood would clot at the rupture site. This would lead to the blocking of the blood flow. It plugs the artery downstream. In such cases, the blood flow to a part of your heart would stop leading to a heart attack.
  • Stroke – A stroke is very similar to a heart attack. While in a heart attack the blood flow to the heart is stopped whereas, in a stroke, the blood flow to the brain gets blocked owing to a clot.

You May Also Want To Read – How Can I Lower My Cholesterol Naturally?

Diagnosis of High Cholesterol

A blood test to keep a tab on the cholesterol levels is the best diagnosis.

Any individual above twenty years of age must undertake the blood test for blood cholesterol level.

You are also considered to be at risk of developing high cholesterol if you have a family history of the same.

Checking the cholesterol levels is called a lipid panel or profiling.

It reports:

  • Low-density cholesterol level.
  • High-density cholesterol level.
  • Total cholesterol level in blood.
  • Triglycerides which is a type of fat found in blood.

For accurate measurements, the blood test must be taken under fasting conditions which means you must not eat or drink anything at least nine to twelve hours before the sample is taken.

You may, however, drink water.

The levels are measured in mg/dl that is milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood.

Treatments and Medications for High Cholesterol

Treatments and Medications for High Cholesterol

A change in lifestyle such as regular exercises, adopting a healthier life with proper diet control is the first step.

Medications are recommended taking a series of factors such as your age, current health, risk factors and side effects into consideration.

Some of the commonly suggested drugs are as below[2]:

  • Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors: Ezetimibe is a drug that helps reduce the blood cholesterol level by limiting the dietary cholesterol absorption.
  • Statin: This is the most commonly prescribed medication for lowering the level of cholesterol. It simply blocks the substance needed by your life to produce cholesterol. It also helps the body reabsorb the cholesterol from the deposits along the walls of the arteries. Ezetimibe is sometimes used in combination with satin.
  • Bile-Acid Binding Resin: Bile is a substance that aids in digestion. Bile-acid binding resins like colesevelam, cholestyramine and colestipol bind to the bile and thus indirectly lower the level of cholesterol.

Precautions and Self Care

High cholesterol sets in when you lead a sedentary lifestyle and spend most of your time as a couch potato.

Another reason is having highly fried foodstuff and sweetened foods.

The key to the disease lies in adopting a healthier way of life.

The following changes are necessary to bring about an improvement in the cholesterol level:

  • Shedding those extra pounds.
  • Quit smoking and drinking.
  • Exercise at least once a day.
  • Eat on time, but do not indulge.
  • Have a number of small meals than two huge meals.
  • Avoid fatty and sweetened foods.

Conclusion

A healthy lifestyle is the key to the healthy heart and well-maintained cholesterol level.

It is always wiser to limit yourself when you indulge rather than regretting later.

Read Also: Health Benefits of Lecithin

Author

Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDE, CDN

Michelle is a Preventive Cardiology Specialist at Cardiatricshealth.com. As a Registered Di

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