Lots of questions coming in lately about high cholesterol, and there’s plenty of misinformation out there…So, take a look at the top 10 questions about high cholesterol from my inbox and learn what it really does to your body, and what that means for your future health.
You may have inherited high cholesterol, but you won’t know unless you’re tested.
A simple blood test at a routine medical visit can tell whether you — like 32% percent of Americans — have high cholesterol.
You may be diagnosed with borderline-high or high cholesterol if your blood test results show:
• Total cholesterol higher than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
• LDL (“bad”) cholesterol higher than 100 mg/dL
• Triglycerides levels over 150 mg/dL
• HDL (“good”) cholesterol less than 60 mg/dL
But what does this really mean for your health?
Well, even though it does mean you’re at risk for, or may already have heart disease (the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States), having high cholesterol isn’t something you’ll notice day-to-day.
Want to know more? Here are the top 10 questions about high cholesterol from my In-Box.
1. What Does High Cholesterol Do to the Body?
➡ Having high cholesterol can lead to the stiffening and narrowing of the arteries, as well as reduced or blocked blood flow through them because of a buildup of plaque.
Plaque is a combination of cholesterol, fats, your cells’ waste products, calcium, and fibrin (which causes blood clotting). That’s why cholesterol matters.
2. Who Does High Cholesterol Affect?
High cholesterol can affect anyone at any age. About 73 million adults in the United States have high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But it can also be a problem for children when high cholesterol runs in the family.
3. Can High Cholesterol Be Inherited?
Yes. High cholesterol is genetic for about 1 in 200 people in the United States who live with a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH).
Unfortunately, 90 percent of people who have FH don’t know it, according to the FH Foundation, a national nonprofit organization based in Pasadena, California.
Screening for high cholesterol is the only way to identify people who have FH. Because of this, all children should have a cholesterol screening test once between ages 9 and 11, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
➡ If your LDL cholesterol level is above 100, it’s considered high. But if it’s higher than 190, you may have inherited FH.
➡ If a parent has familial hypercholesterolemia, you have a 50% likelihood of having it, too.
Finding out if you have it — and getting treated if you do — are vital, because having FH means you have a 20-times higher risk of heart attack or stroke than people who don’t have inherited high cholesterol.
4. Can High Cholesterol Make You Tired?
No, high cholesterol doesn’t usually cause fatigue, but it can lead to heart diseases which do, like coronary microvascular disease (MVD).
MVD affects the tiny coronary (heart) arteries.
➡ In this heart condition, excess LDL cholesterol builds up as plaque in the small arteries of your heart, narrowing and stiffening them (atherosclerosis).
➡ This reduces blood flow, which can make you feel tired or short of breath, as well as cause your chest pain
➡ If you’re taking a statin medication to treat your high cholesterol, possible side effects include symptoms that come with fatigue, like memory loss, forgetfulness, and confusion.
➡ Be sure to discuss any similar symptoms with your doctor.
5. Can High Cholesterol Cause a Stroke?
Yes, if you have high cholesterol, you’re at risk for stroke due to the excess cholesterol circulating in your blood.
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Stroke Association.
➡ LDL cholesterol builds up in your arteries, where it slows or blocks the flow of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to your body, including your brain.
➡ As arteries narrow and stiffen, blood clots may form and cause a stroke from a blockage in the brain.
Stroke is also one of the main causes of disability in the United States, but it’s preventable; keeping your cholesterol levels down is one way to cut your risk.
6. Does Having High Cholesterol Make You Feel Sick?
No. For most people, high cholesterol has no symptoms at all.
➡ But when it causes plaque buildup in larger arteries in your heart, coronary artery disease results, along with angina, chest pain, arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat), and shortness of breath that can make you feel like you’re dragging.
Coronary Artery Disease, also called coronary heart disease, is the most common heart disease, but many people have no symptoms at all until they suffer a heart attack.
For them, a heart attack was the first sign that they’d been living with high cholesterol.
➡ The American Heart Association advises having your total cholesterol checked every four to six years starting at age 20 (or more frequently if you’re at risk). If you are overweight, your doctor will want to check it more frequently.
➡ If your numbers are too high, you can take the steps you know are necessary to lower your risk of both heart disease and stroke.
➡ Eat a diet low in saturated and trans fats but rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
➡ Stay physically active
➡ Take all prescribed medications as instructed by your doctor.
7. Will High Cholesterol Cause Erectile Dysfunction (ED)?
➡ High cholesterol alone is not thought to cause erectile dysfunction, but plaque-clogged arteries can because blood flow is essential to an erection.
➡ When we see patients with ED, we have to consider not only cholesterol disorders but also that other parts of the body might be afflicted with atherosclerotic plaque. The heart, lower extremities, and brain are the areas we typically examine to look for such disease.
8. Can High Cholesterol Cause Headaches or Dizziness?
No. High cholesterol doesn’t cause these symptoms.
➡ Sometimes, but rarely, the medications we use to treat high cholesterol, such as statins, can cause headaches in some people.
Check with your doctor if you’re having headaches or dizziness to find out if your symptoms are related to drug side effects, or to another health condition that may need treatment.
9. When Should High Cholesterol Be Treated With Medication?
➡ If you’ve had a heart attack or been diagnosed with inherited high cholesterol, you’ll probably need to try a cholesterol-lowering medication or medications, in addition to being careful with your diet and staying active.
➡ In addition to statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs may be prescribed.
➡ If you’ve just learned that your cholesterol was high after a routine checkup, discuss your test results with your doctor. If the doctor recommends it, give a healthy diet and an active lifestyle a try first.
➡ If your cholesterol levels remain high, you may need a heart scan to look for plaque buildup in your arteries, and your doctor may recommend cholesterol-lowering drugs to lower your heart disease and stroke risk.
10. Is High Cholesterol Always Bad?
Not all cholesterol is bad.
➡ Higher levels of HDL cholesterol — optimally 60 mg/dL or higher — may protect your heart from disease, heart attack, and stroke, according to the AHA.
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