Cholesterol is a waxy molecule that can be present in your bloodstream. Cholesterol is required by your body to build healthy cells, but high cholesterol levels can increase your risk of heart disease.
You can get fatty deposits in your blood vessels if you have high cholesterol. These deposits eventually accumulate to the point where blood flow through your arteries is restricted. Those deposits can sometimes rupture and form a clot, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
High cholesterol can be passed down the generations, but it’s more typically the result of poor lifestyle choices, making it avoidable and treatable. High cholesterol can be reduced by a nutritious diet, frequent exercise, and, in some cases, medication.
High cholesterol has no symptoms. A blood test is the only way to detect if you have it.
When to See a Doctor
Ask your doctor if a cholesterol test is necessary. Children and young people without heart disease risk factors are usually examined twice, once between the ages of 9 and 11 and again between the ages of 17 and 19. Adults with no risk factors for heart disease should be retested every five years.
Your doctor may propose more frequent measures if your test results aren’t within acceptable ranges. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, or other risk factors like smoking, diabetes, or high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend more frequent tests.
Cholesterol is carried through your blood, attached to proteins. This combination of proteins and cholesterol is called a lipoprotein. There are different types of cholesterol, based on what the lipoprotein carries. They are:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL).LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, transports cholesterol particles throughout your body. LDL cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL).HDL, or “good” cholesterol, picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.
A lipid profile also typically measures triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. Having a high triglyceride level can also increase your risk of heart disease.
Factors you can control — such as inactivity, obesity, and an unhealthy diet — contribute to high cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol. Factors beyond your control might play a role, too. For example, your genetic makeup might keep cells from removing LDL cholesterol from your blood efficiently or cause your liver to produce too much cholesterol.
Poor dietary habits. Saturated fat, which can be found in animal products, and trans fats, which can be found in professionally baked cookies and crackers as well as microwave popcorn, can both boost cholesterol levels. High-cholesterol foods, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, will raise your cholesterol levels.
Obesity- If you have a BMI of 30 or more, you’re at risk of having high cholesterol.
Lack of physical activity. Exercise helps to increase the size of the particles that make up your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, which makes it less dangerous.
Smoking. The walls of your blood vessels are damaged by cigarette smoking, leaving them more prone to fatty deposits. Smoking may lower your HDL, or “good,” cholesterol levels.
Age. Your risk of high cholesterol rises as your body chemistry changes as you get older. For example, as you become older, your liver’s ability to eliminate LDL cholesterol decreases.
Diabetes. High blood sugar leads to higher amounts of hazardous cholesterol known as very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) and lower levels of HDL cholesterol. The lining of your arteries is also damaged by high blood sugar.
High cholesterol can lead to a harmful buildup of cholesterol and other deposits on your artery walls (atherosclerosis). These deposits (plaques) can restrict blood flow through your arteries, causing problems such as:
Pain in the chest. You may have chest discomfort (angina) and other symptoms of coronary artery disease if the arteries that feed blood to your heart (coronary arteries) are compromised.
A heart attack has occurred. When plaque tears or ruptures, a blood clot might form at the site of the rupture, obstructing blood flow or breaking loose and clogging an artery downstream. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a portion of your heart stops.
The same heart-healthy lifestyle adjustments that can lower cholesterol can also help prevent high cholesterol from developing in the first place. You can do the following to help prevent high cholesterol:
- Consume a low-salt diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Limit your intake of animal fats and use healthy fats sparingly.
- Maintain a healthy weight by losing excess pounds.
- Give up smoking.
- At least 30 minutes of exercise should be done most days of the week.
- If you must drink alcohol, do it in moderation.
- Control your anxiety.