What is high cholesterol?
is a waxy, fatlike substance that your liver produces. It’s vital for the
formation of cell membranes, vitamin D, and certain hormones. Cholesterol
doesn’t dissolve in water, so it can't travel through the body by itself.
known as lipoproteins help transport cholesterol through the bloodstream. There
are two major forms of lipoproteins.
lipoproteins (LDL), also known as "bad cholesterol," can build up in
the arteries and lead to serious health problems, like heart attack or stroke.
lipoproteins (HDL), sometimes called "good cholesterol," help return
the LDL cholesterol to the liver for elimination.
many foods that contain high amounts of fat increases the level of LDL
cholesterol in your blood. This is known as high cholesterol, also called
hypercholesterolemia or hyperlipidemia.
If levels of
LDL cholesterol are too high, or levels of HDL cholesterol are too low, fatty
deposits build up in your blood vessels. These deposits will make it difficult
for enough blood to flow through your arteries. This could cause problems
throughout your body, particularly in your heart and brain, or it could be
What are the symptoms of high
cholesterol typically doesn't cause any symptoms. In most cases it only causes
emergency events. For instance, a heart attack or stroke can result from the damage
caused by high cholesterol.
typically don’t occur until high cholesterol leads to the formation of plaque
in your arteries. Plaque can narrow arteries so less blood can pass through.
The formation of plaque changes the makeup of your arterial lining. This could
lead to serious complications.
A blood test
is the only way to know if your cholesterol is too high. This means having a
total blood cholesterol level above 240 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Ask
your doctor to give you a cholesterol test after you turn 20 years old. Then get
your cholesterol rechecked every 4 to 6 years.
may also suggest you have your cholesterol checked more frequently if you have a
family history of high cholesterol. Or if you demonstrate the following risk
- have high blood pressure
- are overweight
There is a
condition passed through genes that causes high cholesterol called familial
hypercholesterolemia. People with this condition have cholesterol levels of 300
mg/dL or higher. They may experience xanthoma, which can appear as a yellow
patch above the skin, or a lump underneath the skin.
Coronary artery (heart) disease
heart disease may be different for men and women. However, heart disease
remains the number one killer of both sexes in the United States. The most
common symptoms include:
in the neck, jaw, upper abdomen, or back
or coldness in your extremities
of plaque caused by high cholesterol can put you at serious risk of having the
blood supply to an important part of your brain reduced or cut off. This is
what happens when a stroke occurs.
A stroke is
a medical emergency. It’s important to act fast and seek medical treatment if
you or anyone you know experiences the symptoms of a stroke. These symptoms
loss of balance and coordination
asymmetry (drooping eyelid and mouth on just one side)
to move, particularly affecting just one side of the body
in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
vision, blackened vision, or double vision
that supply the heart with blood can slowly narrow due to the buildup of
plaque. This process, called atherosclerosis, happens slowly over time and has
no symptoms. Eventually, a piece of the plaque can break off. When this
happens, a blood clot forms around the plaque. It can block blood flow to the
heart muscle and deprive it of oxygen and nutrients.
This deprivation is called
ischemia. When the heart becomes damaged, or part of the heart begins to die
due to the lack of oxygen, it’s called a heart attack. The medical term for a
heart attack is myocardial infarction.
the American Heart Association, someone in the United States has a
heart attack roughly every 34 seconds.
Signs of a
heart attack include:
squeezing, fullness, pain, or aching in the chest or arms
or an a feeling of impending doom
indigestion, or heartburn
attack is a medical emergency. Damage to the heart could be irreversible, or
even fatal, if treatment doesn’t begin in the first several hours after a heart
important to act fast and seek medical treatment if you or anyone you know
experiences the symptoms of a heart attack.
artery disease (PAD) can occur when plaque builds up in the walls of the
arteries. This will block the flow of blood in the arteries that supplies blood
to the kidneys, arms, stomach, legs, and feet.
early PAD may include:
in the legs during activity or exercise, called intermittent claudication
in the legs and feet
progresses, symptoms occur more frequently and even occur when you are at rest.
Later symptoms that may occur because of reduced blood flow include:
paleness, or shininess on the skin of the legs and feet
death caused by lack of blood supply, called gangrene
on the legs and feet that don’t heal or heal very slowly
pain that doesn’t go away when at rest
in your toes
that turn blue
hair growth on the legs
in the temperature of your lower leg or foot, compared to the other leg
PAD have a higher risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or limb amputations.
cholesterol is very easy to diagnose with a blood test called a lipid panel.
Your doctor will take a sample of blood and send it to a laboratory for
analysis. Your doctor will ask that you do not eat or drink anything for at
least 12 hours prior to the test.
panel measures your total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and
triglycerides. The Centers for Disease Control and
says these are the desirable levels:
cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL
cholesterol: 60 mg/dL or higher
less than 150 mg/dL
cholesterol is generally considered “borderline high” if it’s between 200 and
239 mg/dL. It’s considered “high” if it’s above 240 mg/dL.
cholesterol is generally considered “borderline high” if it’s between 130 and
159 mg/dL. It’s considered “high” if it’s above 160 mg/dL.
cholesterol is generally considered “poor” if it’s below 40 mg/dL.
How can cholesterol levels
The American Heart Association recommends having your cholesterol levels
checked every 4 to 6 years if you are a healthy adult over the age of 20. You
may need to have your cholesterol checked more often if you are at an increased
risk of high cholesterol.
You may also
need more frequent cholesterol checks if you have a family history of cholesterol
problems or heart attacks at a young age, especially if they’ve affected your
parents or grandparents.
cholesterol doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages, it’s important to make
good lifestyle choices. Eat a healthy diet, maintain an exercise routine, and
regularly monitor your cholesterol levels by getting them checked at the