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High Cholesterol – Symptoms, Risk Factors and Prevention

High Cholesterol

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The term cholesterol refers to a type of fat present in the body cells that is required by the body to carry out important functions such as digestion of food, production of Vitamin D, hormones and so on. Cholesterol moves throughout the bloodstream in tiny packets known as lipoproteins that are made of fats on the outside and proteins on the inside.

Besides being produced in the body, cholesterol is also obtained from food items that we consume. Now, there are two types of lipoproteins delivering cholesterol throughout the body, namely LDL or Low-density lipoproteins and HDL or High-Density Lipoproteins. And maintaining a healthy balance between both these types is considered vital for your overall health.

  1. LDL cholesterol – The Low density lipoproteins are mostly used for building cells. However, when your body has too much of LDL cholesterol, it begins building up in the artery walls causing them to narrow, and thus leading to a condition called arteriosclerosis. Hence, LDL cholesterol is often recognized as the ‘bad cholesterol’.
  2. HDL cholesterol – Also known as ‘good cholesterol’, HDL lipoproteins lower the risk of heart disease and stroke by sending bad cholesterol to the liver, where it gets processed and removed from the body.

The total cholesterol however is a measure of the above mentioned cholesterol components and very low-density lipoproteins, which is the triglyceride-carrying component of lipids.

Risk Factors

If you have been wondering as to what causes high cholesterol levels in the body, this is something you need to read.
There are various factors that cause cholesterol levels in the individuals to shoot up, a few of which include: –

Improper Diet – Eating too much saturated fat found in animal products, and trans-fats found in commercially baked crackers and cookies, tends to raise the cholesterol level. Other food items such as dairy products and red meat are also high in cholesterol.

Obesity – Being overweight or having a Body Mass Index of 30 or above also tends to increase the level of triglyceride in your body which decreases the level of HDL.

Smoking – Smoking cigarette not only lowers the level of HDL cholesterol in the body but also damages the wall of blood vessels increasing the chances of fat accumulation in them.

Diabetes – Raised levels of blood sugar have been known to increase the levels of LDL cholesterol in the body along with increasing the levels of HDL cholesterol. High levels of blood sugar also damage the linings of the arteries.

Family History – Genes also help determine the level of cholesterol in the body. Hence, people with a family history of high cholesterol are directly at risk of suffering from it themselves.

Sedentary Lifestyle – Inactivity or sedentary lifestyle also contributes to an increase in the total cholesterol level in your body. Exercising, on the other hand, helps lower triglycerides and raise HDL levels.

Age and Gender – The level of cholesterol in one’s body tends to change with increase in age. Gender also has an important role to play in this. Before menopause, the cholesterol levels in women are generally lower than that in men of the same age.

Signs and Symptoms of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol conditions do not have many signs and symptoms, as such. However, people suffering from lipid disorders, for instance familial hypercholesterolemia, experience yellow patches on the skin or lumps on the hands, feet and other body parts.

Complications :

Increased levels of cholesterol in the body tend to form plaques in the arteries which narrow the arteries, thereby causing less blood to flow through. These often lead to serious complications. Some of the effects of high cholesterol levels in the body include –

Chest Pain :

Reduced flow of blood to the heart directly decreases the oxygen supply to the heart muscles. This leads to chest pain also known as angina. Angina can be of two types – stable and unstable. Stable angina, although painful, is less serious compared to unstable angina which on getting worse can also lead to heart attack.

Emotional stress or physical activity can also trigger chest pain.

Stroke :

A stroke is a medical condition which may occur when the blood supply to the brain is lessened or completely cut off. A stroke like a heart attack is severely fatal and needs immediate medical attention. Some of the symptoms that people experience when having a stroke are –

  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Sudden loss of balance or coordination
  • Difficulty moving (often partial)
  • Blurred or blackened vision
  • Facial asymmetry
  • Slurry speech
  • Sudden and severe headache
  • Numbness in the face, limbs or one side of the body

Heart Attack :

Rupturing of plaques formed due to high cholesterol levels in the blood leads to the formation of blood clots. The clotting of blood can block the blood flow to the heart muscles, depriving it of nutrients and oxygen, causing ischemia.

Oxygen deprivation can further damage the heart or cause it to die out leading to a heart attack. A heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, has the following symptoms

  • Dizziness
  • Excess fatigue
  • Discomfort or pain in the arms or chest
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Heart burn
  • Indigestion

Diagnosis

High cholesterol levels in your body can be diagnosed through a blood test, known as the lipid panel test. A lipid panel test measures your cholesterol readings or the total cholesterol in your body, including LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Normally, a total cholesterol reading of around 200-239 mg/dl is considered as “borderline high” while anything beyond that range would indicate high cholesterol levels in your body.

Prevention and Control

While factors such as genetic makeup are beyond your control, there still remain a fair amount of steps, taking which can help you prevent and also reduce high cholesterol levels in blood. A few of these factors include –

Dietary Improvements

Since food sources are important contributors to the total cholesterol levels in your body, monitoring your diet is one of the first things that you should do. Begin with cutting down unhealthy fat food sources such as processed food items, dairy products, red meat and so on. You can replace them with lean meats, skimmed milk and other sources of healthy fats such as walnuts, almonds and avocados. Consume fresh fruits and vegetables (especially those rich in dietary fiber) and whole grains.

Certain fish types such as mackerel and herring which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, help promote heart health.

Regular Exercise

Indulging in exercises or fitness routine also aids in reduction of cholesterol. Activity not only increases the size of the particles making up LDL to render it less harmful, but also boosts HDL cholesterol. Regular brisk walks, bicycle rides, and swim laps are a few things you can take up to break yourself into a routine.

You can also consider talking to your doctor for advices on the right workout depending on your health conditions.

Limiting Drinking and Smoking

Apart from the above, you will also need to consider important lifestyle changes to prevent or control high cholesterol. If you cannot give up alcohol, try limiting it to a number that is not as harmful. Generally, one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men is considered safe. Smoking is another habit that you will need to give up to benefit health-wise. Doing so will not only improve your HDL levels but also help control blood pressure and risk disorders of the heart.

For people with not so-dangerously high levels of cholesterol, following the above mentioned preventions can also prove to be a good in-house high cholesterol treatment.

Visit your physician at regular intervals to monitor your cholesterol levels while keeping a track of your progress to attain better results.

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