Understanding Your High Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol is a waxy substance in your blood that is attached to proteins and used to build healthy cells. When your cholesterol levels are high, you can develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels, which eventually make it difficult for blood to flow through your arteries. If these deposits break, they may form a clot that can lead to life-treating conditions.

The combination of cholesterol and proteins is called a lipoprotein, and the type of cholesterol varies based on what the lipoprotein carries.

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): Also known as the “bad cholesterol,” LDL transports cholesterol through your body and builds up the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL): This “good cholesterol” picks up excess cholesterol and brings it back to your liver, where it is broken down.

Desirable cholesterol levels are:

  • Total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol of less than 100 mg/dL
  • HDL cholesterol of greater than or equal to 60 mg/dL

Reasons for High Cholesterol

High cholesterol has no symptoms but major implications, as it raises the risk for heart disease (the leading cause of death) and stroke (the fifth leading cause of death) as well as chest pain (angina) and heart attack.

Medical conditions that can cause cholesterol levels to be unhealthy include:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Lupus

Additionally, some medications may worsen cholesterol levels, including those taken for:

  • Acne
  • Cancer
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Organ transplants

Other risk factors include:

  • Unhealthy diet: Eating too much saturated fat (found in fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy) or trans fat (found in pre-packaged desserts and snacks) can increase your cholesterol levels.
  • Obesity: A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher gives you an increased risk for high cholesterol.
  • Lack of exercise: Exercise helps to increase your level of HDL.
  • Smoking: Smoking may lower your level of HDL. 
  • Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can increase your total cholesterol level (HDL + LDL).
  • Age: High cholesterol is more common in individuals over 40, as your liver becomes less able to remove LDL from your bloodstream.

Treatment for High Cholesterol

Your cholesterol levels can be measured by your primary care physician with a simple blood test. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends that your first screening occur between the ages of 9 and 11, with a repeated screening every five years. Screenings should increase as individuals age, occurring every one to two years for men ages 45 to 65 and women ages 55 to 65. All individuals over age 65 should receive a cholesterol test annually.

Fortunately, high cholesterol is preventable and treatable. While it can be genetic, it is typically the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices. You can reduce high cholesterol with a healthier diet, regular exercise, and medication if needed. Some prevention tips include:

  • Eat a low-salt diet with a focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit animal fats and incorporate good fats in moderation.
  • Try to exercise at least 30 minutes per day, five days or more per week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight for your height and body type.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation or not at all.
  • Practice positive stress management techniques.

Reach out to Dr. Asha Tota-Maharaj, MD at Platinum Primary Care with all your healthcare needs. Come visit us at our new office: 2071 Dundee Drive in Winter Park.