The body needs two major kinds of fats in the bloodstream to operate well: cholesterol and triglycerides. They provide energy, protect the body from cold and help avoid injury. Fats and protein form lipoproteins, which travel throughout the bloodstream. High levels of fats, especially cholesterol, moving in the blood can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
There are two kinds of cholesterol. One is low-density lipoproteins (LDL). It is known as the "bad" cholesterol because it increases the risk of heart attack. Ideally, it should be less than 130mg/dl. The other is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol. It lowers heart attack risk. It should be both above 40mg/dl and more than 25% of your total cholesterol.
An ideal total cholesterol level ranges from 140 to 200mg/dl. When it reaches 300, the risk of having a heart attack more than doubles.
There are no symptoms of high cholesterol unless the condition is severe. In such cases, fat deposits can form in tendons and skin or even cause severe stomach pain due to an enlarged liver or spleen.
Causes and Risk Factors
Some forms of high cholesterol are genetic. Others are a result of diet and lifestyle.
A blood test is used to measure cholesterol levels. The readings will be more accurate when the patient has not eaten anything for at least 12 hours.
The best way to get the body's cholesterol to normal levels is to make lifestyle changes:
- Reduce the cholesterol and saturated fat in the diet
- Increase fruits and vegetable servings to five to nine daily
- Take in more water-soluble fiber, such as is in fruits, vegetables, legumes, oatmeal and oat bran
- Exercise regularly
- Reach an ideal weight
- Stop smoking
- Drink a small amount of alcohol daily (no more than two drinks)
If these measures do not lower cholesterol, a lipid-lowering drug may be prescribed.