High Cholesterol – Hyperlipidemia
Hyperlipidemia, better known as high cholesterol, can contribute to a variety of negative health conditions, including heart disease and stroke. Unfortunately, more than a third of Americans (71 million) have high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that exists in your blood. Doctors separate cholesterol into “good” and “bad” types. When people say they have high cholesterol, they usually mean they have excessive amounts of low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol) in their blood.
Common Causes of High Cholesterol
The Mayo Clinic identifies six common causes of high cholesterol. These conditions include poor diet, obesity, large waist circumference, lack of exercise, smoking, and diabetes.
Genetics can also play a key role in your cholesterol levels. If your family members have high cholesterol, then there is a good chance that you will, too.
Eating a diet that’s high in saturated fat and trans fat can raise your cholesterol by adding fat to your blood. Some foods you should avoid include:
- Red meat
- Pork products
- Dairy products (especially full-fat dairy products)
- Fried foods
You can improve your diet by eating a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. You can calculate your BMI by dividing your weight by your height in inches squared and multiplying the result by 703. For instance, a 180-pound, 6-foot person’s BMI calculation would look like:
(180/(72 * 72)) * 703 = 24.41
If you haven’t done algebra in awhile, you can always use an online BMI calculator that will do the math for you. Just plug in your weight and height to get an accurate result.
Large Waist Circumference
Scientists have found a connection between large waist circumference and high cholesterol. Men with waist circumferences of 40 inches or more are at high risk. Women with waist circumferences of 35 inches or more likely have high cholesterol.
Lack of Exercise
When you exercise, your body creates more “good” cholesterol while minimizing the harm caused by “bad” cholesterol.
The American Heart Association recommends that people who want to lower their cholesterol get 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity at least three times a week.
Using tobacco damages your blood vessel walls, which makes it easier for them to collect fatty cholesterol. Some research indicates that smoking can also lower your “good” cholesterol levels.
Diabetes encourages the body to make more “bad” cholesterol and less “good” cholesterol. High blood sugar can also damage your arteries.
Symptoms of High Cholesterol
Unfortunately, high cholesterol doesn’t have any symptoms until it causes a heart attack, stroke or another cardiovascular event.
You can have your doctor perform a blood test that will reveal your cholesterol levels. Most doctors check for cholesterol every four to six years. If you are at risk of having high cholesterol, though, your doctor may want to check it annually or even more often.
Treatment Options for People With High Cholesterol
Making changes to your lifestyle may significantly improve your cholesterol levels. People with high cholesterol can often make improvements by:
- Exercising more often
- Quitting tobacco products
- Eating heart-healthy diets
- Losing weight
If lifestyle changes don’t lower your cholesterol, then you may need to take a cholesterol-lowering medication. Most patients with high cholesterol take statins such as:
- Lipitor (Atorvastatin)
- Lescol (Fluvastatin)
- Mevacor (Lovastatin)
Statins work by telling your liver to produce less cholesterol. When your liver doesn’t make as much cholesterol, you will have lower levels in your blood.
Since cholesterol doesn’t have any symptoms, you should talk to your doctor about getting your levels tested. Depending on your family history and lifestyle, you may discover that you have hyperlipidemia. Luckily, there are plenty of treatment options for this common problem.