Ready for a fancy medical word?
You can also call that high blood cholesterol.
Your body needs cholesterol, which is a fat (or 'lipid'), in order for it to work properly. This would make one think that the more cholesterol, the better, right? Well, unfortunately that's not the way it is.
You may have heard before that you've got a few types of cholesterol:
1) High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol - we refer to this as "good" cholesterol
2) Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - we call this "bad" cholesterol
3) Triglycerides are also a player as a fat made in the body and contribute to your cholesterol level.
Your total cholesterol is all the cholesterols combined. A simple way to describe cholesterol is that it's a fat-like substance that is in every cell in your body. It is produced by the liver from carbohydrates and fats. Foods that, after processed, provide too much cholesterol for your body increase the risk of heart disease.
While there is still some uncertainty, high levels of HDLs usually help protect against heart attacks as we believe they carry cholesterol away from arteries and back to the liver and out of the body. LDLs do the opposite, and can lead to hardened arteries. Triglycerides get high when an individual's lifestyle is unhealthy (diet, low exercise, etc.).
And heart disease, as you've probably heard, is the #1 killer in the US.
Hyperlipidemia often goes untreated, as there are no symptoms. This contributes greatly to the dangers of high cholesterol leading on to heart disease. If you don't treat a problem, it's probably going to get worse.
You only learn that you have high blood cholesterol upon screening tests by your physician. That being said, there are many factors that could indicate whether someone is at risk. These would include an unhealthy diet (high in fat), an inactive lifestyle, being overweight, and heavy alcohol use. Basically all-around unhealthy living.
High cholesterol can lead to hardening of the arteries, which makes the buildup of plaque more likely - the more blockage from these buildups raise the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
There are some conditions that can attribute to high cholesterol, such as diabetes, kidney disease, under active thyroid gland, pregnancy, and conditions that increase levels of female hormones. There are also many medications that can increase cholesterol levels.
The most common way to alleviate high cholesterol issues is a lifestyle change. The diet has to be a major part of this. Low fat foods are a must. Make the move to whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. When necessary, use the low-fat options on toppings, dressings, and sauces. When you are at the grocery store, LOOK AT THE FOOD LABELS! Don't claim ignorance on the diet.
Exercise and an active lifestyle to rid yourself of excess weight is also a major player in reducing your cholesterol level. There are medicines that can help lower cholesterol level as well.
You really need to be honest with yourself and assess where you sit with your current lifestyle. A bad diet and/or an inactive lifestyle puts you at risk. It's important also to get your cholesterol levels checked regularly.
Talk to your primary doctor and express any concerns you may have to them. They can gauge your cholesterol levels and put you on the right track.
- Dr. Reid Christopher