What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as egg yolks, meat, and cheese.
Although your body needs cholesterol, too much cholesterol in your blood can combine with other substances in the blood to form plaque. This can be fatal as plaque may stick to the walls of your arteries.
The buildup of plaque on the artery walls is known as atherosclerosis. Plaque that continues to build up can cause coronary artery disease, which is when the coronary arteries become narrow or even blocked.
Causes of Cholesterol Diseases
Plaque may also build up in other arteries such as arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood to the brain and other body parts. This can lead to problems such as carotid artery disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
When the blood flow that carries oxygen to your heart muscle is reduced or blocked by plaque, this may lead to angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.
When to See a Doctor for Cholesterol Diseases
In general, high cholesterol has no signs or symptoms. Your internist may perform several blood tests to measure your cholesterol levels. The schedule and frequency for your blood test will depend on several factors, such as your age, risk, and family history.
For people aged 19 or younger:
- The first blood test should be done between the ages of 9 and 11.
- Children should perform a blood test every 5 years.
- Some children may perform a blood test at age 2 if they have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, or stroke.
For people aged 20 or older:
- Younger adults should have a test every 5 years.
- Men aged 45 to 65 and women aged 55 to 65 should have the test every 1 to 2 years.
Symptoms of Cholesterol Diseases
High cholesterol shows no obvious symptoms. The condition may increase the risk of angina (chest pain caused by a heart attack), high blood pressure, stroke, and other circulatory system diseases.
Some of the cholesterol symptoms that may arise include:
- Many people with obesity or diabetes also have high cholesterol.
- In men, erectile dysfunction or impotence may be caused by arteries affected by excessive blood cholesterol.
- Soft, yellowish lesions (abnormal tissue) on the skin called xanthomas. This may indicate a genetic predisposition to cholesterol problems.
Call your doctor immediately if:
- You detect soft, yellowish skin growths on yourself or on your children. Consult an internist about being tested for high cholesterol.
- You have symptoms of heart disease, stroke, or atherosclerosis in other blood vessels. Symptoms include left chest pain, pressure or fullness, dizziness, unsteady gait, slurred speech, or pain in the lower legs. Any of these conditions may be associated with high cholesterol, and each requires immediate medical treatment.
Treatments for Cholesterol Diseases
Your doctor may recommend treatment plans based on your condition. Recommended treatment plans may include:
- Healthy lifestyle. You can lower your cholesterol by starting to implement a healthy lifestyle. This includes a heart-healthy diet, maintaining an ideal weight, and exercising regularly.
- Medications. Your doctor may prescribe medications to lower cholesterol. There are several types of cholesterol-lowering medications available, such as statins.
- Apheresis lipoproteins. Some people who have familial hypercholesterolemia (HF) may receive this treatment. This treatment uses a filtering machine to remove LDL cholesterol from the blood. Then the machine returns the rest of the blood back to the person.
Do not hesitate to ask your doctor about any treatment plans above. You should also ask your doctor about possible side effects after treatment.
Treatment Costs for Cholesterol Diseases
Treatment cost for treating cholesterol problems may vary. Your doctor may recommend different treatment plans based on the levels of your cholesterol, the causes, and symptoms.
For more details regarding the treatment cost for cholesterol problems, use Smarter Health’s free service.
Prevention of Cholesterol Diseases
High cholesterol levels can increase the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. Therefore, you require treatment to control your cholesterol levels However, if you prefer to make lifestyle changes first, you may start with the following:
- Quit smoking. Your body will thank you when you stop smoking.
- Lose weight. Being overweight may contribute to high cholesterol.
- Drink less alcohol. You can prevent cholesterol disease if you drink alcohol in the right amounts.
- Exercise regularly. Your doctor may recommend you to exercise at least 5 times a week or perform vigorous aerobic exercise 3 times a week.
- Consume heart-healthy foods by reducing saturated fats, eliminating trans fats, eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, increasing soluble fiber (such as oatmeal, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, apples, and pears), and adding whey protein ( such as dairy products).
Home Remedies for Cholesterol Diseases
Changing your lifestyle may not be enough to lower your cholesterol levels. Your doctor may prescribe you with cholesterol-lowering medications.
Have questions about cholesterol disease? Write in the comment section below or use Smarter Health’s teleconsultation service to make a consultation with an internist.
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