High Cholesterol: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and Prevention
High cholesterol (a.k.a: hypercholesterolemia) is the condition of abnormally high level of cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance synthesized by the liver. Cholesterol is found in certain foods, such as dairy products, eggs, and meat. Cholesterol is required for the normal body functioning. However, the presence of excess cholesterol in blood is harmful for the body.
High cholesterol is the major cause of disease burden, and the risk factor for ischemic heart disease and stroke in both developing and developed countries of world. As per WHO, the prevalence of high blood cholesterol levels increased significantly with the income level of the country.
Cholesterol is carried by lipoproteins from the liver to arteries through the blood. Mainly there are two types of lipoproteins involved in carrying cholesterol from and to cells. They are low-density lipoprotein, or LDL (bad cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein, or HDL (good cholesterol).
- What are the Causes of High Cholesterol?
- What are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?
- What are the Risk Factors for High Cholesterol?
- What are the Complications of High Cholesterol?
- How is High Cholesterol Diagnosed?
- How is High Cholesterol Treated?
- How is High Cholesterol Prevented?
What are the Causes of High Cholesterol?
Some amount of bad cholesterol is naturally produced in the body. Being physically inactive and eating foods that contain a high amount of cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats increase the cholesterol levels in the blood above normal.
Hypercholesterolemia is also caused due to genetic conditions that control the synthesis of fats and cholesterol.
What are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?
In this condition the person does not experience any symptoms. However, blood tests would reveal increased blood cholesterol levels.
What are the Risk Factors for High Cholesterol?
Irrespective of geographic location and ethnicity anybody can develop high cholesterol. The following are the risk factors for high cholesterol:
- Family history: There is a risk of high cholesterol for an individual if any of the family members are known to have heart disease.
- Age: The risk of developing high cholesterol increases with aging. Men of age 45 years or old and women of age 55 years or old have the risk of high cholesterol.
- Gender: Women are likely to develop high cholesterol levels after reaching the menopause.
- Lack of exercise: People who do not exercise are at the risk of developing high blood cholesterol.
- Obesity: Obese people with body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 and above are at the risk of high cholesterol.
- Large waist circumference: There is a risk of high cholesterol for people having large waist circumference. Men who have at least 40 inches (102 centimeters) and women who have 35 inches (89 centimeters) are at the risk of high cholesterol.
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking damages the blood vessel walls, leading to accumulation of fatty deposits. It also decreases HDL levels.
- Diabetes: Increased blood sugar levels would contribute to increased LDL levels.
What are the Complications of High Cholesterol?
High cholesterol condition leads to plaque formation in blood vessels when left untreated. The blood vessel gets narrowed and alters the blood flow. The plaque is called atheroma and the condition is called as atherosclerosis.
The following are the complications of atherosclerosis:
- Angina (chest pain): The patient experiences chest pain caused due to decreased blood flow to heart.
- Chronic kidney disease: The kidney function is lost gradually leading to kidney failure.
- Heart attack: Heart attack is caused when the blood supply to the heart is lost and heart muscles are subjected to death.
- High blood pressure: In this condition there is increase in pressure exerted on the arteries by the blood.
- Peripheral vascular disease: In this condition blood vessels outside the heart and brain gets blocked or narrowed.
- Stroke: In this condition the blood supply to brain is interrupted and some of the brain tissue is damaged.
However, timely diagnosis and treatment of high cholesterol helps to prevent life-threatening complications.
How is High Cholesterol Diagnosed?
High cholesterol is diagnosed through the blood test. The doctor would order lipid panel or lipid profile to determine cholesterol levels.
It is advised to the patient to avoid anything for 12 hours before test. On the test day, the patient’s blood sample is collected and sent for laboratory analysis. The sample is tested to determine the levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
How is High Cholesterol Treated?
There are many drugs to lower high cholesterol. The doctor would prescribe the medication as per the patient’s age, risk factors and increase in cholesterol level.
The doctor would suggest certain life-style changes and diet modifications to lower the cholesterol levels. The patient is advised to stay away from spicy, oily and high calorie foods. It is advised to eat foods rich in vitamins, proteins and fiber.
The doctor would prescribe the following medications to lower the abnormally increased blood cholesterol levels:
- Statins: These drugs interfere with the synthesis of cholesterol and also increases the re-absorption on cholesterol deposited in arteries. Examples of statins are, atorvastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin, pitavastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin.
- Bile-acid-binding resins: These drugs decrease the blood cholesterol levels by increasing the amount of cholesterol utilized by liver for synthesis of bile acids. Examples include cholestyramine, colesevelam and colestipol.
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors: These drugs decrease the blood cholesterol by inhibiting the absorption of dietary cholesterol in small intestine. Ezetimibe is a cholesterol absorption inhibitor that is used as a single drug or in combination with statins.
- Injectable medications: These are new class of drugs effective in decreasing the blood cholesterol levels. Alirocumab and evolocumab, these drugs act by increasing the amount of cholesterol absorbed by the liver from the circulation.
How is High Cholesterol Prevented?
It is possible to prevent and lower the high cholesterol with simple life-style changes. The following measures help to prevent high cholesterol:
- Eat a low-salt diet
- Include many fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Limit the intake of animal fats
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
- Exercise on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
- Lose weight if obese
- Take the prescribe medication for specified duration
- Follow up with doctor regularly