What You Should Know about High Cholesterol
How You Can Benefit From Lowering Cholesterol
High cholesterol is a very important disease state to treat, even if you may not experience any symptoms. When you have high cholesterol, you may develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits can make it difficult for blood to flow through your arteries. This may lead to blockage of blood flow to the heart or brain and ultimately have serious consequences, including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and even death. High cholesterol is largely preventable and treatable. A combination of healthy diet, regular exercise, and medication can lower your cholesterol.
What Cholesterol Is
Cholesterol is a form of fat, also known as a lipid. It is found in every cell of your body and is needed to build healthy cells and make hormones. High cholesterol is a result of various factors such as inactivity, obesity, and an unhealthy diet. Other factors beyond your control may also play a role.
Types of Cholesterol
Total Cholesterol (TC) is the sum of three different cholesterol types. It is made up of the HDL, LDL, and VLDL.
Your total cholesterol should be below 200 mg/dL.
Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) is what is often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. This is the cholesterol that builds up in your blood vessels and causes atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. This is the main target for high cholesterol treatment. Diet, exercise, and cholesterol-lowering medications can all reduce LDL. Your LDL goal depends on your personal risk factors for cardiovascular heart disease. Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL) is a lipoprotein that is measured to better quantify heart disease risk.
High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) is what is often referred to as the “good” cholesterol. HDL works in your favor to carry other cholesterols away from the blood vessels. Generally, the higher your HDL, the lower your risk of cardiovascular heart disease. Men should have an HDL level above 40 mg/dL and women should have an HDL above 50 mg/dL.
Triglycerides (TRG) are fats that circulate in your blood and provide your body with energy. They are stored in your fat cells. If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, you may have high triglycerides. Although it is unclear how, high triglycerides may contribute to hardening of the arteries, which increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Your triglyceride level should be below 150 mg/dL.
Your Goals For Treatment
Your cholesterol goals are determined by the risks you have for developing heart disease. You are at high risk if you have a history of heart attack, diabetes, or carotid or peripheral vascular disease.
Other risk factors that might place you at high risk include:
- high blood pressure
- low HDL cholesterol
- family history of early onset heart disease
- age (men older than 45 years, women older than 55 years).
Achieving your cholesterol goals can decrease your risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and death.
If your cholesterol levels are high, you probably will not notice any symptoms. That's why cholesterol tests are an important tool to monitor your treatment progress. A lipid panel, or lipid profile, is a group of blood tests that can be used to measure the amounts of cholesterol in your blood. This test can be done in a laboratory from a venous blood sample or in the Lipid Management Clinic using a finger stick test. Knowing your lipid levels allows your healthcare providers to determine what lipid treatments are appropriate and how to adjust them. Other laboratory tests may be necessary for certain lipid treatments. These will be measured at your initial visit, before medication treatment, and during medication treatment. These tests include liver function tests and fasting blood glucose tests. It is very important that you have these tests performed when scheduled to assist your healthcare provider in monitoring your lipid therapy.
Lifestyle changes are essential to improving your cholesterol. Positive diet and exercise habits have been proven to help you reach your cholesterol goals. The Lipid Management Clinic will provide multiple resources to help you make lifestyle changes. Dietary and exercise specialists are available to help you reach your goals. Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease. Quitting smoking should be a primary goal for lipid treatment. Please ask for resources and tools to assist you.
Taking Your Medicines
When lifestyle changes are not enough, you may need cholesterol-lowering medication to reach your treatment goals. Once you have started medications, it is very important to continue your lifestyle changes.
- Take your medication as prescribed and report any changes in your other medications. Be sure to include over-the-counter medications, herbals, and vitamins.
- If you are pregnant, nursing, or intend to become pregnant, please discuss this with your healthcare provider before starting or continuing medication.
- Regular cholesterol testing and follow-up visits are necessary and important to help you reach your cholesterol goals.
If you have any questions, speak with your pharmacist or physician.