What is High Cholesterol?
Cholesterol, which is known as a lipid, is a substance that is found in your body and in certain foods. In the right levels, it keeps your body functioning in a healthy and normal way. However, if you have an excessively high level of these lipids, it can lead to serious health conditions such as heart attacks and strokes.
What is High Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a substance that is found in two different places. The first is the body, where it is made mainly by the liver and is vital to keep your body functioning in a healthy and normal way. Cholesterol can also be found in certain foods.
The substance, which is fatty and waxy, is also known as a lipid. If you have an excessively high level of these lipids, it is bad for your health and you have what is called high cholesterol. This excess of cholesterol, which lives in your blood, clogs up your arteries and makes it harder for blood to pump around your body and reach vital organs such as your heart. Blood clots can also form, which can cut off the blood flow or break away and become lodged elsewhere, causing a stroke or heart attack.
High cholesterol can also lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, angina, mini-strokes (TIAs), vascular dementia and peripheral arterial disease (PADs).
What age can cholesterol start building up in arteries?
Age is a major factor in cholesterol building up in the arteries. By the time humans are 40 years old, around 50% of us will suffer from cholesterol in the arteries. Men over the age of 45 may suffer from significant plaque build-up, while women are more likely to have it when they are over the age of 55.
If you smoke, have a high-fat diet, drink excessively or do not get enough exercise, this problem is even more likely to occur.
High Cholesterol Symptoms and Warning Signs
High cholesterol does not cause any symptoms, so there is no physical way of knowing that the amount of cholesterol you have is above normal. You will only find out if you have this problem by having a blood test.
Causes of High Cholesterol
There are a number of factors that can lead to increased levels of cholesterol in the body. As a high level of cholesterol can lead to a number of other very serious medical conditions such as heart attacks and strokes, it is essential to identify the possible causes of a high cholesterol level.
- Lifestyle and diet choices are possibly the two biggest causes of high cholesterol; this includes eating unhealthy foods, particularly those that are high in saturated fats
- Smoking, which can cause narrowing of the arteries
- Having diabetes
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Genetics – a family history of high cholesterol will also increase your risks of developing it
How is High Cholesterol Diagnosed?
There are no physical symptoms of high cholesterol. You can only find out if you have a high amount of cholesterol by having a blood test.
Your GP may suggest you have a blood test if they think your cholesterol levels could be high. They may suggest testing your cholesterol levels because of your weight, age or any other conditions you already have like diabetes or high blood pressure.
You should ask your GP for a cholesterol test if you have never been tested before and are over 40 years old and/or overweight. If high cholesterol and heart problems run in your family, you should also be tested for high cholesterol
Testing for high cholesterol
There are two different methods of testing cholesterol:
- A blood test, which will involve taking blood from your arm with a needle. This is sent away to check your cholesterol level. The results normally take a few days to come back.
- A finger-prick test, which is done by pricking your finger and placing a drop of blood onto a strip of paper. This blood is put into a machine to check your cholesterol in just a few minutes. This can also help to spot early symptoms of diabetes and heart disease.
If you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, you will receive advice on how to bring it down by a doctor or nurse. Changing your diet and taking certain tablets like statins may also be recommended.
High Cholesterol Treatment
If you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, the first step is to make changes to your diet and lifestyle. You will need to exercise more often, stop drinking excessively, stop smoking altogether and eat healthier foods. High cholesterol foods include those high in saturated fat, including fatty meats or meat products, butter, lard, cream, cheese and sugar. These should be replaced with healthier foods like fruit and vegetables. However, if after a few months your levels haven’t reduced to a lower level, you may need high cholesterol medication.
Statins block a type of chemical called an enzyme, which makes cholesterol. Once blocked, the level of cholesterol in your blood goes down. Some people are intolerant to statins, suffering side effects like headaches and stomach problems. Statins must be taken for life, as cholesterol levels will rise once again after the medication is stopped. For that reason, statins are only prescribed to people with a high risk of heart disease.
Aspirin is sometimes prescribed to people over the age of 40 to stop blood clots forming. These are prescribed in low, daily doses.
Ezetimibe is an alternative high cholesterol treatment to statins. Cholesterol is absorbed from your intestines, where your food and bile juices are, and into your blood. Ezetimibe works by blocking this absorption. You can take this medication alone, or alongside a statin. While it rarely causes side effects on its own, it is not believed to be as effective as a statin.
Bile acid sequestrants (resins) or fibrates are other alternatives if the above medications do not suit you. Bile acid sequestrants (resins) medication binds itself to bile acids to stop them from being reabsorbed from the intestines into your blood.
Alternative treatments to lower cholesterol levels?
Medication like statins is an effective method of lowering cholesterol, but for it to be fully beneficial, the patient must also make the decision to commit to healthy lifestyle choices. This is the biggest factor in lowering cholesterol levels.
Steps like stopping smoking, losing weight if you are obese and cutting down on how much alcohol you drink are small sacrifices for the sake of your body’s health.
Becoming more active and ensuring you get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day will also go a long way towards lowering your cholesterol levels. Improve your diet by cutting out fried foods; try microwaving, boiling or steaming foods instead. Replace fatty foods with high-fibre and low-fat alternatives, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, wholemeal bread, muesli and fish that is high in omega-3.
Medicine Direct have an experienced clinical team of doctors, pharmacists and dispensers, all of whom are based in the UK. All are fully trained and qualified to provide appropriate and considered care across all areas of treatment we have available at our online pharmacy.
This means that no matter which member of our team is assigned to your case, you can rest assured that you are in the hands of a highly skilled medical professional, who possesses the compassion and clinical expertise to properly advise you on the best course of treatment.
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All of our doctors and pharmacists are fully registered with both the General Medical Council (GMC), MHRA and the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). Each member of our team has also worked in various clinic settings in the past, such as community pharmacies and NHS hospitals.