High Cholesterol: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Metabolic Health

What is High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like lipid that is produced in the liver naturally. It is essential as it is needed for the production of certain hormones, cell membrane formation, and Vitamin D. The food we eat contains cholesterol, hence its presence at normal levels is good for the body. But if the levels are too high it can put a person at a high risk of heart diseases. Different types of cholesterol are, HDL or good cholesterol and LDL or bad cholesterol. The HDL levels should be high and the LDL levels should be low. When the LDL levels are high it is termed as high cholesterol.

Cholesterol Levels

Having higher levels of cholesterol can mean different symptoms and complications that can unnecessarily take a toll on the body. 3 types of cholesterols are present:

  1. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL)
  2. High-density lipoproteins (HDL)
  3. Triglycerides

LDL is the bad cholesterol that blocks the vessels in the heart and can lead to complications or heart diseases. HDL protects the heart from any kind of disease. Therefore, higher levels of HDL are better. Triglycerides are another type of fat that builds up within the body and are considered to be the ‘building blocks’ of cholesterol. It is recommended that adults, and even at-risk children, should get their levels checked regularly. 

Level Total Cholesterol HDL cholesterol LDL cholesterol Triglycerides
Good Less than 200 (but the lower the better) The ideal is 60 or higher; 40 or higher for men and 50 or higher for women is acceptable Less than 100; below 70 if coronary artery disease is present Less than 149; ideal is <100
Borderline – moderate 200–239 n/a 130–159 150–199
High 240 or higher 60 or higher 160 or higher; 190 is considered very high 200 or higher; 500 is considered very high
Low n/a less than 40 for men and less than 50 for women n/a n/a

Children, especially those who are physically active, eat nutritious food, are at the appropriate weight, and are not genetically predisposed, are at a lower risk for high cholesterol. However, regular testing would still be recommended as it is better to prevent any conditions like this.

Level Total Cholesterol HDL cholesterol LDL cholesterol Triglycerides
Good 170 or less Greater than 45 Less than 110 Less than 75 in children 0–9; less than 90 in children 10–19
Borderline – moderate 170–199 40-45 110–129 75–99 in children 0–9; 90–129 in children 10–19
High 200 or higher n/a 130 or higher 100 or more in children 0–9; 130 or more in children 10–19
Low n/a Less than 40 n/a n/a

High Cholesterol Symptoms

High cholesterol is a silent killer and does not show any symptoms. In many of the cases where high cholesterol is not detected, it leads to emergency events like a stroke or a heart attack. But these events happen only when the arteries are blocked by plaques. These result in the narrowing of the blood vessels and cause complications.

The only way to know if a person has high cholesterol is to get regular check-ups. Blood tests are enough to know the levels of this lipid. Get your cholesterol checked every 4 to 5 years after you reach 20 years to know if the levels are in the normal range.

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Who is at Risks?

High cholesterol risk factors that are uncontrollable are:

  • A person with a family history of high cholesterol is at a higher risk of this condition.
  • A woman after menopause is likely to have a higher bad cholesterol level and hence has a risk of heart disease.
  • Men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55 have high chances of high cholesterol thus at risk of heart diseases.

Controllable risk factors are:

  • Diabetes or high blood pressure patients
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Following unhealthy food habits
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • Smoking and consumption of alcohol.

High Cholesterol Causes

Having certain types of high cholesterol raises the chances of having a heart attack or heart disease. When there is high LDL, the fat starts to deposit on the walls of the arteries, narrowing it and restricting the movement of blood. When the blood flow is restricted it can lead to many serious complications. Things that cause high cholesterol are:

  • Consuming foods like meat, cheese, etc in high quantities
  • Consuming saturated fats that are present in fried, processed, baked foods. It is also present in dairy products, chocolate and meat.
  • Intake of trans fats through fried and processed foods.
  • People who have an inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolemia have high LDL.
  • Obesity or excess weight
  • Drugs like corticosteroids, progestins, etc
  • PCOS, kidney or liver disease
  • Diabetes can cause heart attack
  • Underactive thyroid

How is High cholesterol diagnosed?

High cholesterol shows no symptoms and hence everyone who has reached the age of 20 and above should get a High cholesterol test once every few years. That will help them to know the levels and reduce them in case it is high. A simple blood test called the lipid profile is enough for High cholesterol diagnosis and to assess the levels of cholesterol. It helps to determine the LDL, HDL, triglycerides level, and total cholesterol level.

After the test is performed the High cholesterol doctor will do a physical exam by checking the heart rate, blood pressure, and heartbeat. If the doctor finds that the patient is at risk of heart disease further tests are asked to be performed. That includes EKG, stress test, Echocardiogram, tilt table test, and more.

High Cholesterol Treatment

Effective and timely treatment of high cholesterol levels is important as, if left untreated, it can lead to several complications and long-term damage to the body. Professional intervention and visiting the doctor to get the symptoms and effects under control would be vital. There may be different approaches to treating high levels of cholesterol. If you have any comorbidities like diabetes, high blood pressure, etc, the treatment options might differ as they would have to be customized to suit your needs.

  1. Statins – These lower the LDL cholesterol levels greatly. They work by slowing down the production of cholesterol in the liver itself. 
  2. Bile acid sequestrants – These are substances that are used in the process of digestion. Essentially, these resins help reduce the cholesterol levels that are present in the blood by binding to the bile acids and removing them. This forces the body to break down the LDL cholesterol levels and create bile acids instead.
  3. Cholesterol absorption inhibitors – They work well in tandem with statins. How this works is that they block the absorption of cholesterol from the diet. 
  4. Bempedoic acid – The enzyme in the liver, ATP citrate lyase, that makes cholesterol is stopped by bempedoic acids. If prescribed by the doctor, it is often combined with statins to have maximum fast and efficient benefits. 
  5. PCSK9 inhibitors – These are often used in a condition called hypercholesterolemia and are injected drugs. They help the liver absorb and remove more LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream
  6. Lifestyle changes – To reduce cholesterol levels, along with the medication, lifestyle changes are also a must. This will help bring about a more sustainable and long-term change. Exercise, eating more fiber, and healthy fats, limiting fatty substances, reducing alcohol, and reducing /stopping smoking, etc would be vital in the care. These changes will help to reduce and prevent any complications that may occur as a result of higher levels of cholesterol in the body.

How can High cholesterol be prevented?

High cholesterol that is genetically inherited cannot be controlled, but High cholesterol prevention is recommended.

  • Following the dietitian’s instructions on food
  • Consuming a diet that is nutritious with low animal fat, saturated or trans fat.
  • Include omega 3 fatty acids in your diet by including nuts like walnut, flax seeds, and salmon, trout, and sardines.
  • Limiting consumption of fried, processed and sugary foods
  • Quit smoking and consuming too much alcohol.
  • Avoid smoking
  • Exercise especially aerobic exercise for at least 3 to 4 times a week.
  • Maintain a normal weight
  • Take medications regularly
  • Follow recommendations of regular cholesterol checks if you are at risk of heart disease.

What is the best home remedy for cholesterol?

Not everyone is comfortable taking medications all the time, therefore, home remedies might be the best option to resort to. There are different things that you can try at home to reduce the levels of cholesterol like – eating foods that are rich in soluble fiber, having abundant fruits and vegetables, using unsaturated fats, avoiding trans fats, having less sugar in the diet, and daily meals, etc.

What is the best vitamin for cholesterol?

Vitamin B is known to boost the production of HDL cholesterol and lowers LDL (or bad) cholesterol. However, it is not recommended to take supplements of Vitamin B without consulting the doctor as it may lead to adverse effects.

FAQs

How Do You Exactly Feel When You Have High Cholesterol?

Although there are no symptoms of high cholesterol, it can easily make a person feel uncomfortable and tired. When the body experiences high cholesterol levels, the blood flow reduces, making the person feel short of breath. It can also make the person feel tired and experience mild chest pain. If you’re experiencing these signs, consult your doctor immediately. 

How Can I Reduce My High Cholesterol Levels?

Your diet plays a significant role in influencing the body’s cholesterol levels. An excellent and effective way to reduce high cholesterol levels is by making a few healthy diet changes. You can start by eliminating trans fats from your diet. Saturated fat intake should be restricted, and the consumption of foods rich in soluble fiber and omega-3 fatty acids should be increased. 

What Foods Cause High Cholesterol?

Any food item containing unhealthy fat can increase your cholesterol levels. Such items include processed foods, deep-fried foods, fat on meat and chicken skin, full dairy products, shellfish, eggs, etc. If these items form an essential part of your daily diet, it’s time to redesign your food plan. 

What Foods Should You Ideally Avoid if You Have High Cholesterol?

If you have high cholesterol levels, you should avoid deep-fried food, takeaway items like hamburgers and pizzas, processed or deli-style meats like salami, ham, bacon, and items listing ‘hydrogenated oil’ on the ingredient list. You should also avoid palm oil, coconut oil, fat on meat, butter, pastries, cakes, and biscuits. You should replace all these products with organic, healthy vegetables and fruits.

What is the fastest way to lower cholesterol without medication?

Having a healthy diet and lifestyle would be the fastest way to control the levels of cholesterol in the body and also prevent them from acting up in the first place. Engaging in ample and regular exercise along with a healthy diet will ensure that these levels will remain under control and in range. 


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