Cholesterol Levels: High, Low, Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention

Cholesterol Levels: High, Low, Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention

Cholesterol Levels: High, Low, Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention

Cholesterol Levels: High, Low, Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention.

Cholesterol levels tend to increase with age. Doctors recommend taking steps earlier in life to prevent dangerously high levels of cholesterol developing as a person ages. Years of unmanaged cholesterol can be much trickier to treat.

What is Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood and in your cells. Your liver makes most of the cholesterol in your body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and digestive fluids. Cholesterol also helps your organs function properly. Yet having too much LDL cholesterol can be a problem, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians advise it is important to manage it and keep it at reasonable levels.

People can check their cholesterol levels by getting a simple blood test. The test measures total cholesterol, HDL (high density lipoprotein), LDL (low density lipoprotein) and triglycerides, another type of fat in the blood stream.

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HDL is the “good” cholesterol that keeps LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, down, according to the American Heart Association. Too much LDL cholesterol can cause deposits known as plaque to build up in the blood vessels, which causes a decrease the amount of blood and oxygen going to the heart. This, in turn, can lead to heart disease and heart attack.

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What Causes Cholesterol and Symptom

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 that are high in cholesterol, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, will also increase your total cholesterol. Obesity

There are really no symptoms of high cholesterol. That’s why the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends getting your cholesterol checked at age 20, and then every five years after that. The doctor will be able to tell if the cholesterol levels have risen too quickly and can help formulate a treatment plan.

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High cholesterol is also caused, in part, by genetics. For instance, familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic disorder, happens when the body is unable to remove LDL cholesterol from the blood, according to the NIH.

Age and gender are also risk factors. Women generally have lower LDL levels than men before menopause, but after menopause women’s cholesterol levels tend to rise, according to the American Heart Association. Smoking and diabetes are also risk factors for high cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic.

High triglycerides levels are also linked to an increased risk of blood vessel plaque formation and heart disease. They’re also linked to diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a condition related to high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, excess body fat around the waist and high cholesterol levels, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Cholesterol Diagnosis & Tests

In 2013, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association released new cholesterol guidelines. These new recommendations help doctors determine which people should receive statins. Statins are drugs that block cholesterol production, and may also help the body reabsorb cholesterol that built up in plaques within a person’s blood vessels, according to the Mayo Clinic.

People in four groups should receive statins, according to the guidelines. These include people who have:

1. A history of cardiovascular disease.
2. An LDL cholesterol level of 190 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher.
3. Type 2 diabetes, and are between 40 and 75 years old.
4. A high risk of heart disease.

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The last group can be determined using a formula that takes the person’s age, sex, race, smoking history and cholesterol levels into account. Healthy LDL cholesterol levels can range from below 100 to about 160 mg/dL.

Cholesterol Treatment & Medication

There are methods people can use to reduce cholesterol levels and prevent them from increasing. Doctors will always recommend lifestyle changes first to treat high cholesterol, such as eating healthy foods, exercising and losing weight. However, there are medications that can help lower cholesterol, too. They include statins that are known under the brand names Lipitor, Lescol, Mevacor, Pravachol, Crestor, Zocor and Livalo.

At any age, diets low in saturated fats and trans fats and high in soluble fibers and protein are good for lowering cholesterol buildup. The TLC diet is a low-saturated-fat, low-cholesterol eating plan. People following it should have a daily intake of less than 7 percent of calories from saturated fat and less than 200 milligrams of dietary cholesterol. The TLC diet encourages people to eat the following foods:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat or nonfat dairy products
  • Fish
  • Skinless poultry
  • Lean meats
  • Barley
  • Garlic
  • Oat bran
  • Beta-sitosterol,
  • Even beans can help lower bad cholesterol levels, according to a 2014 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, as can foods with soluble fiber such as apples, brussel sprouts, pears and prunes.

Another type of medication is the bile-acid-binding resin, which includes the brand names Prevalite, Questran, Welchol and Colestid, according to the Mayo Clinic. This medication increases the liver’s production of bile acids, thereby reducing the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

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High-cholesterol prevention strategies

The best way to prevent high cholesterol is the same way to treat high cholesterol — living a healthy lifestyle. By losing weight, eating foods that are low in saturated fats, eliminating trans fats, eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables and fish and drinking alcohol in moderation, it’s possible to keep cholesterol and triglycerides levels down, according to the American Heart Association. Regular exercise — 30 to 60 minutes a day — and leading a smoke-free lifestyle are also important methods to prevent high cholesterol.

Couples trying to conceive may also want to watch their cholesterol levels. According to a 2014 study of about 500 couples, researchers found a strong link between men and women with higher levels of cholesterol and the time it took them to become pregnant.

Additional resources

Your Guide To Lowering Your Cholesterol With Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes, from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Cholesterol Fact Sheet, from the CDC.
Top 5 lifestyle changes to improve your cholesterol, from the Mayo Clinic.