Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in all of the body’s cells. Basically, it is a type of lipid that is required for the essential processing of the body. It includes maintaining the integrity of cell membranes, producing hormones, generating bile acids for digestion, and synthesis of vitamin D.
The liver is responsible for producing cholesterol. But you can also receive it from the diet, particularly focusing on foods derived from animals like meat, poultry, dairy products, and eggs.
Some of the symptoms of cholesterol problems include:
- Soft, yellowish growth on the skin may represent high levels of cholesterol
- People with obesity or diabetes may have cholesterol
- Impotence in men may result from arteries that have too much blood cholesterol
Generally, there are two main types of cholesterol.
- Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterol: It is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol since it can build up in the arteries. It acts as a plague that creates an obstruction for blood to flow smoothly, thus, leading to major heart disease and stroke.
- High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol: It is often referred to as “good” cholesterol since it helps LDL cholesterol removed from the arteries, thus, reducing the risk of creating plagues and heart disease.
Hence, it is advisable that a healthy balance is maintained between LDL and HDL cholesterol levels for overall cardiovascular health.
Some of the common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular Menstruation: One may either miss periods or not have periods at all or may also experience heavy bleeding during periods.
- Abnormal Hair Growth: Women with PCOS may experience excessive facial hair growth or heavy hair growth on other parts of the body.
- Obesity: Almost 80% of women with PCOS struggle with obesity and face difficulty in maintaining a healthy weight.
- Acne: PCOS can cause acne, particularly on the face, chest, and back, which may persist into adulthood and prove challenging to treat.
- Ovarian Cysts: Ultrasound scans may reveal enlarged ovaries with multiple follicles or egg sac cysts.
- Skin Tags: Small flaps of extra skin, known as skin tags, may develop in areas like the neck and armpits.
- Thinning Hair: Hair loss or bald patches may occur in individuals with PCOS.
- Infertility: PCOS can lead to infertility in women, which is a result of irregular or infrequent ovulation, thus, making it difficult for them to conceive.
Some of the causes of high cholesterol are mentioned below.
- Unhealthy Diet: People who consume foods rich in cholesterol like trans-fat and saturated fats may cause LDL cholesterol to rise.
- Lack of Physical Activity: Sedentary behavior can increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL ("good") cholesterol.
- Obesity: People who are overweight can experience high cholesterol levels.
- Age & Gender: As people age, their cholesterol levels tend to rise.
- Genetics: A family history of high cholesterol can increase the risk of developing the condition.
- Smoking: Smoking can damage arteries, lower HDL cholesterol levels, and raise the likelihood of LDL cholesterol development.
- Diabetes: Blood sugar levels are also to blame for elevating LDL cholesterol and bringing down HDL cholesterol.
- Alcohol Consumption: By consuming excessive alcohol, you can experience a hike in cholesterol levels and increase the chances of developing heart disease.
Higher cholesterol levels may lead to complications related to the cardiovascular system.
- Coronary artery disease or CAD: CAD can eventually reduce the blood flow to the heart muscle. Angina (chest pain) and a higher chance of having a heart attack could result from this.
- Peripheral artery disease or PAD: PAD affects the arteries that carry blood to the arms and legs. This may cause pain or cramping during physical activity and may increase the risk of infection and tissue death in the affected limbs.
- Stroke: A stroke can occur by a blood clot in an artery that is responsible for supplying blood to the brain. The risk of stroke increases by atherosclerosis that carries blood to the brain.
- Aortic Aneurysm: The risk of developing an aortic aneurysm increases with high cholesterol levels. The aorta bulges and may burst in this potentially fatal disorder, leading to significant internal bleeding.
Diagnosing high cholesterol typically involves a blood test called a lipid panel or lipid profile. With the use of this test, you may find out how much HDL, LDL, and triglycerides are in your blood.
The results of the lipid panel can help healthcare providers assess the risk of developing heart disease and determine the most appropriate treatment plan.
Before the test, you may be asked to fast for 9-12 hours to ensure accurate results, as food intake can temporarily affect lipid levels in the blood.
Your healthcare professional might advise making some lifestyle modifications, taking certain drugs, or doing both depending on the results of the lipid panel. Also, regular check-ups and cholesterol screening are important for monitoring and managing cholesterol levels effectively.
Treating high cholesterol levels majorly involves reducing LDL cholesterol levels, increasing HDL cholesterol levels, and lowering triglyceride levels.
Here are the main components of cholesterol treatment:
- Lifestyle changes:
- Diet: Ensure that you adopt a heart-healthy diet that’s particularly low in dietary cholesterol, trans fat, and saturated fats.
- Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity since it helps increase HDL cholesterol levels and improve overall heart health.
- Weight Management: If you are obese, lose a subsequential amount of weight since it lowers lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Smoking Cessation: Lowering the intake of smoke can reduce the chances of developing heart disease and raise HDL cholesterol levels.
- Medications: If lifestyle changes alone are not sufficient to lower cholesterol levels, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication. Commonly prescribed medications are mentioned below.
- Satins: Satins help reduce LDL cholesterol levels by inhibiting the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme in the liver.
- Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors: These medications, like ezetimibe, stop cholesterol from the intestine from being absorbed, lowering LDL cholesterol levels.
- Bile Acid Sequestrants: These medications bind to bile acids in the intestine and promote their excretion, which helps lower LDL cholesterol levels.
- Fibrates: These drugs primarily help lower triglyceride levels and can modestly increase HDL cholesterol levels.
- PCSK9 Inhibitors: By enhancing the liver's capacity to eliminate LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream, these injectable medicines reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
Prevention & Management
Preventing and managing high cholesterol levels involves adopting a healthy lifestyle that promotes heart health. Here are some key strategies for preventing and managing high cholesterol.
- Limit processed and sugary foods, as well as excessive alcohol consumption.
- Include strength training exercises at least twice a week to maintain muscle mass and promote overall health.
- If you smoke, quitting can help increase HDL cholesterol levels and improve heart health.
- Schedule regular check-ups with your healthcare provider to monitor your cholesterol levels and overall health.