Treatments are available to assist with high cholesterol levels.
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Millions of people have high blood cholesterol and could be at risk of developing serious health problems. Although not a disease in itself, high levels of cholesterol in your blood could result in a build-up of lipids in your arteries that could cause blockages leading to conditions such as a stroke, heart attack, coronary heart disease, angina or atherosclerosis.
Cholesterol in itself isn’t a bad thing; the body needs it, as it forms part of some of the most vital functions in our system. However, having an excess of it within our arteries can cause serious problems.
Cholesterol is a lipid that is produced by our liver, mostly from saturated fats in the food we eat. This waxy substance makes up a part of our cell membranes, regulates the passage of molecules through the cell membrane, is involved in the production of certain sex hormones and is involved in the production of bile, to name a few.
Inside the body, cholesterol needs to be transported within the blood vessels. Responsible for this function are compounds known as lipoproteins. Those that take cholesterol to bodily cells to be used are known as low density lipoproteins (LDL). Those that remove cholesterol from the blood and take it back to the liver to be broken down are known as high density lipoproteins (HDL).
Generally, having too high a level of LDL in your blood is considered a bad thing, because it means that cholesterol is being transported to the cells that might not all be used, which could result in a blockage. LDL is also known as blood cholesterol. HDL transports cholesterol back to the liver to be broken down and expelled from the body, reducing the risk of cholesterol clogging arteries.
Alongside these lipoproteins there also exist triglycerides, which are fats converted from calories that are released into the blood when needed. When a doctor measures your cholesterol, they will look at HDL, LDL and the triglyceride levels in your blood.
High cholesterol can affect anybody, but it's more likely to develop in people who have a particularly sedentary lifestyle, eat food high in saturated fats, smoke or who consume alcohol on a regular basis.
People with high blood pressure, diabetes, an underactive thyroid gland, a high blood level of triglycerides, kidney disease or liver disease also tend to have higher levels of LDL in their system. Some patients tend to be more prone to developing high cholesterol, because it runs in their family or because they belong to an ethnic group that is more prone to have high blood pressure.
Many of the causes of high cholesterol are related to lifestyle, so simply doing more exercise, drinking less, eating more healthily and losing a bit of weight could make a big difference. If you have high blood pressure or any of the abovementioned conditions that have been associated with high blood pressure, seeking treatment for these conditions could also influence LDL levels.
If you have a higher risk of high cholesterol due to genetics, taking extra lifestyle precautions early on in life has been known to lower patient risk. In these cases you are also advised to have your cholesterol checked regularly.
When a doctor checks your cholesterol levels, they'll do more than just take LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels into consideration. A doctor will also look at your risk of developing serious complications because of your high cholesterol as well as your overall health before placing you on a course of treatment, as medication is not always a necessary step.
The most likely treatment that will be recommended for abnormal cholesterol levels will be lifestyle and dietary adjustments. If this doesn't work however, a prescription option may be considered.
Cholesterol can be controlled with the help of a healthy diet, exercise, or a healthy diet and exercise combined with cholesterol medications.
A doctor may recommend that you do more exercise, eat more healthily and include foods with healthy fats and plenty of fibre in your diet, get more sleep, aim to lower your body weight to normal (if required), stop smoking and cut out alcohol.
When medication is prescribed to control cholesterol they may include the following:
Statins – Statins prevents the production of cholesterol in the liver, which creates an imbalance of cholesterol. This causes more cholesterol to be pulled towards the liver where it will be broken down and expelled.
Ezetimibe – Ezetimibe may be used alongside statins in those that are particularly resistant to treatment. They work by preventing the absorption of cholesterol from food.
Niacin – Niacin is a B vitamin that has shown its potential to lower LDL and also stimulate the production of HDL, although it's not commonly used.
Aspirin – Aspirin is prescribed to prevent clotting, which could result in vascular health problems by preventing blood platelets from becoming too sticky.