High cholesterol happens when you have too much of a particular type of fat in your bloodstream. It can happen to anyone, but you’re at greater risk of having high cholesterol if you lead an unhealthy lifestyle.
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There are three main types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL).
Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance in the blood which the liver produces. It is important for the body as it protects nerves, makes cell membranes and certain hormones. But high levels of cholesterol can be dangerous.
High cholesterol can cause fatty deposits to gather in the arteries. Gradually, these deposits grow and interrupt the flow of blood through the arteries. This can form blood clots and increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
What are the different types of cholesterol?
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is called “good” cholesterol. It takes cholesterol to your liver, where it is flushed out of your body. This reduces the risk of cholesterol collecting at the wall of your arteries, which helps to keep you healthy.
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is called “bad” cholesterol. It takes cholesterol directly to your arteries. Excess amounts of cholesterol sometimes cause a plaque buildup which increases the risk of blood clot in the arteries, which can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.
VLDL is very-low-density lipoprotein produced in the liver and carried through your bloodstream into your body. VLDL mainly carries triglycerides into your blood vessels. Like LDL, VLDL is also considered “bad” cholesterol as too many triglycerides can build up deposits in your artery walls and make them narrow. This restricts blood-flow, and can also lead to serious health issues.
Who gets high cholesterol?
Poor cholesterol levels are usually found in adults, particularly those over the age of 40. This is because as you get older, your body becomes worse at removing LDL cholesterol. You are also more likely to have high cholesterol if you’re a smoker, a drinker, have a bad diet, lead a sedentary lifestyle or are overweight or obese.
It can occur in children, usually by an inherited disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia, which doesn’t let the body recycle LDL cholesterol properly. It is important that you check your cholesterol levels regularly, particularly if you’re at risk, so that you can begin treating it before it creates bigger problems.
How common is high cholesterol?
It’s unclear just how common high cholesterol is, partly because so many people have it without knowing. But in 2008, the global prevalence of raised total cholesterol among adults was estimated at 39% (37% for males and 40% for females).
So it’s definitely common. And if global obesity continues to rise then it’s only going to become more widespread.
When we present you with stats, data, opinion or a consensus, we’ll tell you where this came from. And we’ll only present data as clinically reliable if it’s come from a reputable source, such as a state or government-funded health body, a peer-reviewed medical journal, or a recognised analytics or data body. Read more in our editorial policy
What causes high cholesterol?
Many factors can be responsible for a high amount of cholesterol in your body. Poor lifestyle choices like an unhealthy diet (foods high in saturated fat, trans fat or refined sugars), lack of physical activity, drinking excessive alcohol and smoking can increase your cholesterol levels.
Some health factors which can also cause high cholesterol levels include obesity, family history of high cholesterol, increasing age or being of South Asian origin. Medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney or liver problems, underactive thyroid gland and polycystic ovary syndrome can increase the amount of ‘bad’ cholesterol in your body.
High cholesterol can cause a plaque build up called atherosclerosis to accumulate in the arteries. Gradually, this buildup grows and forms a clot that interrupts the flow of blood through the arteries. This often causes heart attacks, strokes or coronary artery diseases.
What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?
High cholesterol does not have any specific symptoms. You might know about it only during life-threatening complications.
The only way to be aware about your cholesterol levels is to get it checked regularly. A simple blood test will give you the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol, bad (non-HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides in your body.
Can high cholesterol lead to other problems?
Yes. High cholesterol has been linked to an increased risk of people developing serious and sometimes life-threatening problems down the line. High blood cholesterol can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis: where excess plaque builds up in your blood vessels.
This can, in turn, lead to coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke or sudden cardiac arrest.
What medications are there for high cholesterol?
You’ll typically only be prescribed medicines for high cholesterol if your levels aren’t going down after you’ve tried to lower it yourself (with good diet and exercise) or if you’re at a particularly high risk of suffering from serious problems.
The most common medications for high cholesterol are statins. Statins help to regulate your cholesterol by reducing the amount of it that your body makes. They usually come as a tablet that you take once a day.
If you don’t want to use statins, or they don’t work, you can use other medications: such as ezetimibe, bempedoic acid, fibrates and bile acid sequestrants (also called resins). There are also injections you can use, such as alirocumab and evolocumab.
Is there a ‘best’ treatment for high cholesterol?
Typically, the best treatment for high cholesterol is to try to cut out the amount of saturated fats and carbohydrates in your diet, as well as to increase your level of exercise. But for some people this doesn’t work, or isn’t easy to do.
Failing this, statins have been observed to lower the risk of people with high cholesterol from experiencing heart attacks by 24% and cardiovascular disease by 18%.
Does high cholesterol always need treatment?
No, many people can lower their cholesterol without treatment. For instance, some have been able to keep their high cholesterol levels within the normal range by making simple lifestyle changes like more regular exercise and a healthier diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low in saturated and trans fat is very helpful to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
But if you have high cholesterol despite making these changes, talking to our clinical team would be the best way to deal with it. Our doctor will examine your general health condition and suggest treatment that’s right for you.
High cholesterol treatment may differ from person to person, depending on the seriousness of your condition, your age, risk factors and possible side effects from certain medicines.
FAQ: High cholesterol
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How is high cholesterol diagnosed?
High cholesterol is diagnosed from a cholesterol test. This can be done by taking blood from your arm. The blood test from your arm will usually take a few days for you to get your results, as it will need to be sent off to a lab. Whereas the results from the finger prick test can be ready within a few minutes.
Are there foods which lower cholesterol?
By replacing foods in your diet that are high in saturated fats with foods that are high in unsaturated fats, you can help to reduce your cholesterol levels. Foods that are high in saturated fats include: pies, fatty meats, cheese, cream and cakes. Foods that are high in unsaturated fats include: oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and vegetable oils and spreads.
It’s also important to increase your intake of fibre, which can be found in potato skins, fruits and vegetables and whole grains such as wholemeal bread.
You can also reduce your cholesterol levels by changing the way you cook things. For instance instead of frying or roasting foods, you can switch to grilling, microwaving or boiling.
What are the normal cholesterol levels?
Cholesterol levels should be kept under control to prevent the risks of heart diseases and other health problems. Often when you’ve had a cholesterol test, you will only be told your total cholesterol level. But if you ask a doctor or nurse, you might be able to get a breakdown of your levels.
The blood test can include the count of each type of cholesterol: total cholesterol, LDL levels, HDL levels and triglycerides.
Ideally, cholesterol levels should be:
Total cholesterol: 170mg/dl or below
HDL (good cholesterol): 45mg/dl or above
LDL (bad cholesterol): 100mg/dl or below
Non-HDL (bad cholesterol): 120mg/dl or below
Triglycerides: 150mg/dl or below
For men and women above 35 years, it is recommended to get your cholesterol numbers checked frequently.
Can you get side effects from high cholesterol treatment?
In the case of statins, the most common treatment for high cholesterol, most people notice very mild side effects (or none at all). Also, different products can have different side effects. But some of the more commonly listed side effects include: headaches, dizziness and feeling sick.
Most medicines come with risks of side effects. For more detailed guidance on side effects from specific medicines please visit our product pages.
Does high cholesterol treatment always work?
High cholesterol treatment will always work best alongside an adjustment to diet and with more exercise. So even if you take daily statins, for instance, your cholesterol may still not lower unless you put the work in yourself to make healthy lifestyle adjustments.
If, however, you use cholesterol treatment alongside these lifestyle adjustments, there’s no reason why your cholesterol levels shouldn’t reduce - helping you to lower your risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases or strokes.
Why should I buy high cholesterol treatment online with Treated?
With Treated, not only can you create a tailored delivery schedule of when and how you want your treatment, but we’ll keep in touch to help you to make sure that your treatment is working for you, and that you’re staying as healthy as possible.
Once you’ve talked to us about your health and set up a subscription that works for you, you can pause, cancel or change it whenever it suits you.
Disclaimer: The information provided on this page is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please talk to a doctor.
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