All About High Cholesterol
High cholesterol is a common condition that affects more than one-third of all adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means about 71 million Americans are at increased risk for health problems associated with high cholesterol. Fortunately, treatment for high cholesterol and treatment for the heart problems it causes reduces the risk of these health problems.
Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance that the human body uses in small quantities to make bile, insulate nerve cells, and make vitamin D. Cholesterol strengthens cell walls. In fact, the human body needs cholesterol to make cells, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Humans get cholesterol in the animal products they eat, but the liver would manufacture cholesterol if someone did not consume any food containing cholesterol. Animal products, such as meat and dairy, contain cholesterol.
The human body absorbs cholesterol through the small intestine. The bloodstream distributes cholesterol to awaiting cells throughout the body. Special proteins, known as lipoproteins, carry cholesterol through the bloodstream.
Medical professionals categorize these lipoproteins according to their density. Some of the proteins are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) while others are high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
Health care professionals often refer to low-density lipoprotein as “bad cholesterol” because LDL cholesterol can join with fats and other substances in the blood to accumulate on the inner walls of the arteries. This accumulation, known as plaque, can clog and narrow arteries enough to reduce the flow of blood to and from the heart and other organs.
Reducing blood flow in this way can cause chest pain, also known as angina. Reduced blood flow from plaque buildup can even cause a heart attack. High levels of LDL raise the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Doctors and other medical professionals call high-density lipoprotein “good cholesterol” because it carries LDL away from the arteries. HDL can lower LDL levels.
Diagnosis and Treatment of High Cholesterol
Doctors use blood tests to measure cholesterol levels, and to diagnose high cholesterol. The blood test provides information about a patient’s total cholesterol, which is the total amount of LDL and HDL in the blood, LDL levels, HDL levels, and another form of fat in the blood, known as triglycerides.
Medical professionals discuss cholesterol levels in terms of milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Men and women should have total cholesterol levels of 125 to 200mg/dL or less and LDL levels of 100mg/dL or less. Men should have HDLs of 40mg/dL or higher and women should have HDLs of 50mg/dL or higher.
Doctors prescribe medications, known as statins, to lower LDL cholesterol. Lifestyle changes can improve HDL and LDL cholesterol levels. These lifestyle changes include eating low fat foods, losing weight, getting plenty of exercise, managing stress and quitting smoking.
For more information about high cholesterol and its health effects, talk to your doctor or heart specialist. Treatment and lifestyle changes can help you reduce your blood cholesterol and decrease your risk of health problems associated with high cholesterol.