Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the blood, the body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, but high levels of cholesterol can lead to high risk of heart disease.
Anyone with high cholesterol can easily develop fatty deposits in the blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits grow, making it difficult for enough blood to flow through the arteries. Sometimes, these deposits can break suddenly and create a clot that leads to a heart attack or stroke.
High cholesterol can be inherited, but it’s often as a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, which make it preventable and treatable. A healthy diet, regular exercise and sometimes medication can help reduce your chances of having high cholesterol.
Causes of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is carried through the blood, attached to proteins. A combination of proteins and cholesterol is referred to as lipoprotein. There are different types of cholesterol, based on what the lipoprotein carries. They are:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, moves cholesterol particles all through your body. LDL cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL, the “good” cholesterol, picks up excess cholesterol and returns it back to your liver.
A lipid profile also typically measures triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. Having a high triglyceride level also can increase your risk of heart disease.
Factors you can control such as inactivity, obesity and an unhealthy diet contribute to high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Factors beyond your control might play a role, too. For example, your genetic makeup might make it more difficult for your body to dispose LDL cholesterol from your blood or break it down in the liver.
Medical conditions that can lead to unhealthy cholesterol levels are as follows;
- Chronic kidney disease
Cholesterol levels can also be affected by some types of drugs or treatment you may be taking for other health problems, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Organ transplants
Factors that can increase your risk of high cholesterol levels include:
- Poor diet. Consuming too much fat saturated meals or trans fat can result in unhealthy cholesterol levels. Saturated fats can be found in fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy products. Trans fats are often found in packaged snacks or desserts.
- Obesity. Anyone with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater is at risk of high cholesterol.
- Lack of exercise. Exercise helps boost your body’s HDL, the “good,” cholesterol.
- Smoking. Cigarette smoking may reduce your level of HDL, the “good,” cholesterol.
- Alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can increase your total cholesterol level.
- Age. Even young children can have unhealthy cholesterol, but it’s much more common in people over the age of 40. As you age, your liver becomes less able to dispose LDL cholesterol.
High cholesterol can lead to a harmful accumulation of cholesterol and other deposits on the walls of your arteries (atherosclerosis). These deposits (plaques) can limit blood flow through your arteries, which can result to complications, such as:
Chest pain: If the arteries that supply your heart with blood (coronary arteries) are affected, you might have chest pain (angina) and other symptoms of coronary artery disease.
Heart attack: If plaques tear or rupture, a blood clot can form at the plaque-rupture site thereby preventing the flow of blood or breaking free and plugging an artery downstream. If blood flow to some part of your heart stops, you will develop a heart attack.
Stroke: Similar to a heart attack, a stroke occurs when a blood clot prevents blood flow to part of your brain.
What are the warning signs of high cholesterol?
- Slurred speech.
- Extreme fatigue.
- Chest pain or angina.
- Shortness of breath.
- Numbness or coldness in extremities.
- High blood pressure.
The same heart-healthy lifestyle changes that can reduce your cholesterol can help prevent you from having high cholesterol in the first place. To help prevent high cholesterol, you can:
- Eat a low-salt diet that includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Limit the intake of animal fats and use good fats in moderation
- Lose extra pounds and maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
- Exercise on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes
- If at all you have to drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
- Endeavor to manage stress