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High cholesterol is a condition in which you have too much lipids (fats) circulating in your blood.

Although it is necessary for your body to function normally, having too much of it can cause serious health problems.

High cholesterol is most commonly caused by diets high in saturated fats and trans fats, as well as lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise and smoking. It can also be caused by medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease and hypothyroidism.

As high cholesterol can lead to serious health issues such as heart attack and stroke, it is wiser to get regular check-ups and make lifestyle changes to mitigate the risk of developing the condition.


What is Cholesterol?

But what is cholesterol, anyway?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is produced naturally by your liver and found in some food items.

It is used by your body to create hormones, cell membranes and vitamin D. It is also necessary for the smooth functioning of your nerve impulses.

While some cholesterol is necessary, too much can lead to health problems such as heart disease and stroke.


Symptoms

High cholesterol does not cause any noticeable symptoms. It creeps into your blood and increases silently, until you develop complications, most of them serious.

That’s why it’s important to get tested for it regularly.


Causes and Risk Factors

Your cholesterol goes high for various wrong reasons. Your lifestyle, for example, can be one reason .

If you eat junk food full of trans or saturated fat or don’t exercise enough or smoke too much, you’re in for unpleasant surprises.

Not all can be attributed to your lifestyle factors. Medical conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease can contribute to your condition.

It can also develop due to genetics. That’s if it runs in your family already.

And there is stress, which can cause an increase of cholesterol in your blood.

These following factors clearly show some of the common causes.

  • A diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol
  • Overweight or obesity
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Having diabetes, hypothyroidism or other metabolic disorders
  • Genetics (having a family history of high cholesterol)
  • Lupus or kidney disease
  • Certain medications

What Does LDL Cholesterol Do To Your Health?

Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, commonly known as “bad” cholesterol, is a type of cholesterol found in your blood. It is called low-density lipoprotein because it is a low-density particle compared to other types of cholesterol.

High levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk for heart disease and other serious health conditions.

LDL carries cholesterol from your liver to the cells in your body, and if there is too much LDL in the blood, it can build up in your artery walls and cause plaque to form. This plaque buildup can restrict blood flow, increase blood pressure and ultimately lead to heart attack or stroke.

It’s important to keep your LDL levels in check in order to maintain your healthy cholesterol levels and reduce the pretty much avoidable risks.


Can Medications Increase High Cholesterol?

Certain medications may contribute to the increase of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.

Here is a list of some of the most common medications that can contribute to high cholesterol:

  • Beta blockers
  • Antidepressants
  • Steroids
  • Birth control pills
  • Antihistamines
  • Seizure medications
  • Immune system suppressants

Monitor your cholesterol levels closely, If you are taking any of these medications. Your doctor is sure to help you with alternative medications or lifestyle changes that can help lower your cholesterol levels.


How to Check Your Cholesterol Levels?

To diagnose your cholesterol levels, a blood test called lipid panel or lipid profile is done. It is also called a complete cholesterol test.

This test measures your total cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and triglycerides.

Ideally, a lipid panel is done after a 9-12 hour fast, during which you time you can’t eat or drink anything except water. This is to ensure accurate results, as fasting helps to minimise variation.

Your doctor will determine, using the test results and conclude if your cholesterol levels are within permissible limits.

The following chart gives you the average cholesterol levels for all age groups.


How to Lower Your Cholesterol Levels?

High cholesterol levels can be extremely tricky, as they can lead serious medical conditions.

But there are steps you can take to lower your cholesterol levels significantly, such as:

  • Eat healthy. Choose foods low in saturated and trans fats and high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.
  • Avoid processed and sugary foods, as these can raise your cholesterol levels and increase the risk of your heart disease.
  • Include more omega-3 fatty acids, found richly in salmon, flaxseeds and walnuts.
  • You can also try dietary supplements like fish oil or omega-3.
  • Exercise regularly. Aim for 30 minutes of dedicated physical exercise.
  • Quit smoking for good.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight. 
  • Limit your alcohol consumption.
  • Take cholesterol-lowering medications, if only prescribed by your doctor.
  • Drink green tea. Green tea contains catechins, an antioxidant, which can help you lower your cholesterol levels.
  • Add garlic to your diet. Garlic is proven to help lower high cholesterol levels.

Medications to Lower Your Cholesterol Levels

Statins: These drugs work by reducing the amount of cholesterol produced by your liver. Examples include atorvastatin (Lipitor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor).

Bile acid sequestrants: These drugs work by binding bile acids in your intestines to reduce your cholesterol absorption. Examples include colesevelam (Welchol) and cholestyramine (Questran).

Niacin: This vitamin helps increase the production of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

Fibrates: These drugs work by increasing the breakdown of triglycerides and boosting HDL. Examples include gemfibrozil (Lopid) and fenofibrate (Tricor).

PCSK9 inhibitors: These drugs work by reducing the amount of LDL (the “bad” form of cholesterol) in your blood. Examples include alirocumab (Praluent) and evolocumab (Repatha)


What Can You Do To Prevent High Cholesterol?

Start with awareness

Awareness is a key to good health. Awareness of what must be done to prevent high cholesterol build-up in your blood and the necessary action to be taken to lower them.

Follow-through

It’s important to follow-through your discipline or your difficult medical regimen in order to defeat your condition. Form firm habits around your discipline and stick to them, no matter what.

Get your levels checked often

As often as you are required to. Ask your doctor about the frequency. Do what he says without a question.

Eat healthy

Yes, you heard it right. Eat heathy. Right food can always help you lower your cholesterol levels.

Quit bad habits

Bad habits don’t help. Habits like smoking or drinking can worsen your health and lead to major complications. Resolve to quit them for the right habits.

Be cheerful

More your cheerfulness, better your chances of lowering your cholesterol levels. Stress can increase them.


 

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Sources: Mayo Clinic, Healthline, Cleveland Clinic, Everyday Health, Verywell Health.

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