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What is high cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found only in foods that come from animals. It is also manufactured by the body in the liver. You need small amounts of cholesterol to make and maintain nerve cells and to manufacture natural hormones.

When you have too much cholesterol in your bloodstream it is called hypercholesterolemia, or high cholesterol. Hypercholesterolemia increases your risk of heart disease.

The two most important components of cholesterol are low–density lipoprotein (LDL), the so–called “Bad” cholesterol, and high–density lipoprotein (HDL), the “Good” cholesterol. The goal of most cholesterol treatment is to decrease the LDL in your blood and to raise the HDL.

How does high cholesterol occur?
The most common cause of high cholesterol is eating foods that are high in saturated fat or cholesterol. Other possible causes are: Excess cholesterol causes deposits to form inside blood vessels. These deposits, called plaque, are made of fats carried by the bloodstream. Atherosclerosis, a condition in which blood vessels become hardened and narrowed by the fatty deposits, may result. Atherosclerosis causes decreased blood flow. Blood clots may form in these narrowed vessels and totally stop blood flow. When this happens in the heart it causes a heart attack. Atherosclerosis causes more deaths from heart disease than any other single condition.

What are the symptoms?

Hypercholesterolemia is a silent disease. There are no symptoms until complications have already developed, such as the chest pain of a heart attack or calf pain with walking, caused by narrowed or blocked arteries to the legs.

How is it diagnosed?

The doctor will order a blood test to check your cholesterol level. These lab tests usually measure your total cholesterol level as well as the levels of LDL, HDL, and triglyceride in your blood.

You may need to fast before your blood test. This means you do not eat or drink anything except water for 12 hours before the test.

The doctor may give you a physical exam and ask about your diet and diseases and health problems in your family.

Why is it important to treat

For every 1% reduction in cholesterol level, the risk of heart disease is reduced 2%.

How is it treated?
A diet high in soluble fiber and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol can help to lower cholesterol levels. Follow these guidelines for a healthy diet: You will need to lose weight if you are overweight. You should also exercise as approved by your doctor.

If neither diet nor exercise substantially reduce your cholesterol level, your doctor may prescribe drugs. Drugs that can lower cholesterol include cholestyramine (Questran), colestipol (Colestid), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), simvastatin (Zocor), probucol (Lorelco), gemfibrozil, or niacin. Some of these drugs have side effects your doctor will need to discuss with you. Sometimes you will need a combination of medications to decrease your total cholesterol.

How can I take care of myself and prevent hypercholesterolemia?
In addition to changing your diet, you can help lower your cholesterol by the following: Doctors and researchers are formulating guidelines for evaluation of hypercholesterolemia in children. Ask your children’s doctor about when to check them.

Taking Care of Your Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance in your body. Cholesterol can be both helpful and harmful to your body. On the good side, it helps build the hormones and nerve cells your body needs. But when you have too much cholesterol, the walls of your blood vessels can thicken. This can cause heart attacks and strokes.

Measuring Cholesterol

When you get your cholesterol checked, your health care provider will tell you how high your cholesterol is:
If your total cholesterol is Your health care provider may also check the two main types of cholesterol in your blood. One type is HDL or “Good” cholesterol. The other type is LDL or “Bad” cholesterol. It’s good to have high HDL and low LDL.

If your HDL is If your LDL is

Keeping Your Cholesterol Low

Most of the time, you can take care of your cholesterol by eating right and getting the exercise you need.
It’s important to eat healthy foods to keep a healthy weight. It also helps to
It’s also important to exercise at least 3 times a week. High cholesterol may be a problem in your family. Know your family history. Talk about it with your health care provider.

Remember, to take care of your cholesterol