When you have high cholesterol, you may develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits make it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries. Your heart may not get as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs, which increases the risk of a heart attack. Decreased blood flow to your brain can cause a stroke.
High cholesterol can be inherited, but it’s often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, and thus preventable and treatable. A healthy diet, regular exercise and sometimes medication can go a long way toward reducing high cholesterol.
- Poor diet. Eating saturated fat, found in animal products, and trans fats, found in some commercially baked cookies and crackers, can raise your cholesterol level. Foods such as red meat and dairy products that are high in cholesterol will also increase your levels.
- Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk of high cholesterol.
- Large waist circumference. Your risk increases if you are a man with a waist circumference of at least 40 inches (102 centimeters) or a woman with a waist circumference of at least 35 inches (89 centimeters).
- Lack of exercise. Exercise helps boost your body’s HDL, or “good,” cholesterol while increasing the size of the particles that make up your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, which makes it less harmful.
- Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them likely to accumulate fatty deposits. Smoking may also lower your level of HDL.
- High blood sugar contributes to higher LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. High blood sugar also damages the lining of your arteries.
When to see your doctor:
Ask your doctor if you should have a cholesterol test. If your test results aren’t within desirable ranges, your doctor may recommend more frequent measurements especially if you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease or other risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes or high blood pressure. Lifestyle changes such as avoiding certain kinds of food (red meat, butter, fried food, cheese, and others with high saturated fat), losing weight if you are overweight, and being more active. But, if you’ve made these important lifestyle changes and your levels remain high, your doctor may recommend medication. The specific choice of medication or combination of medications depends on various factors, including your individual risk factors, your age, your current health and possible side effects.
High cholesterol is a serious condition and can lead to life-threatening illnesses. If you have not had your cholesterol checked by a physician, it is important you do so.