High cholesterol is the presence of raised or abnormal levels of cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is found in the body. It is important for a variety of functions in the body. There are two types of cholesterol: HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol). High cholesterol is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.
There are several causes that may bring cholesterol levels out of balance. Causes that can be influenced are: smoking, overweight, diet, physical inactivity and alcohol consumption. Causes which cannot be controlled are: hereditary disorders in fat metabolism, underactive thyroid, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, some drugs and gender.
The problem with too high cholesterol is that no obvious symptoms are visible in a person with this condition. So it may happen that the disease persists for years, in which damage is done without notice. Cholesterol can accumulate in the vessel wall. Blood vessels become narrower and eventually might be closed. High cholesterol is therefore referred to as a ‘silent killer’.
There are small symptoms that may indicate that cholesterol is too high:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Too little energy, rapidly out of breath.
- Excessive sweating.
- Blood pressure and heart rate too high.
- Poor appetite.
- Deteriorated intestinal functioning.
- Less resistance to stress.
These symptoms, however, may also indicate other conditions.
Measuring cholesterol is done by means of a blood test by the general practitioner. The doctor doesn’t just look at the total cholesterol, but the underlying values are also included. The results will then be assessed on the basis of age, gender and risk factors, such as the presence of diabetes or smoking. Because interpreting these values requires expertise, only a general practitioner or other specialist can make a correct diagnosis.
High cholesterol will not change by itself. Therefore, it’s necessary to make active lifestyle changes in order to lower the cholesterol. So there may be advised to quit smoking, do more exercise, lose weight and eat healthier by means of a cholesterol-lowering diet. The purpose of this diet is to lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol content.
If these lifestyle changes have insufficient effect, the doctor may prescribe medication. First, so-called statins can be prescribed. These drugs inhibit the production of cholesterol by the body. Other drugs that can lower bad cholesterol are fibrates, nicotinic acid derivatives, cholesterol absorption inhibitors and bile acid resins.
Once a person has reduced cholesterol, it’s important to maintain the healthy lifestyle. If one lapse into old habits, then chances are that cholesterol rises again.
- Eating too much saturated fats and high-cholesterol foods causes the cholesterol level in the blood to increase. By reducing the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet, the total cholesterol in the blood will also decrease.
- By losing weight, the value of LDL and total cholesterol can be decreased. Losing weight also increases the HDL level.
- Regular exercise helps to lower LDL cholesterol levels. HDL is also increased by exercise. Apart from lowering cholesterol values, regular exercise will also help with losing weight, so there’s also dealt with (over)weight.
- The term ‘hyperlipidemia’ is derived from the Greek prefix hupér- (over, beyond, excessive) and the Greek word lipidíon (fatty substance).
- The prevalence of high cholesterol is 23%. This means that in these persons, cholesterol content has been increased and/or that they are using cholesterol-lowering medicines.
- Men have a slightly higher risk of having this disease than women.
- High cholesterol increases with age.
- The beneficial HDL cholesterol content is on average higher in women than in men.