The Relation Between High Cholesterol and Heart Disease
Cholesterol helps your body create new cells, insulate nerves, and produce hormones. Usually, your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. But cholesterol also enters your body through food, such as animal foods like milk, eggs, and meat. Too much cholesterol in your body is a risk factor for heart disease
The Way High Cholesterol Can Cause Heart Disease
Overly cholesterol in the blood builds up on the walls of the arteries and causes a form of heart disease known as atherosclerosis. As a result, the arteries narrow, and blood flow to the heart muscle slows down or gets blocked.
Blood carries oxygen to the heart; if not sufficient blood and oxygen reach your heart, brain, or other parts of your organs, you may experience chest pain. If the blood supply cuts off entirely due to a blockage to part of the heart or brain, the outcome is a heart attack or a stroke.
There are two types of cholesterol that many individuals are familiar with: low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol or LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol or HDL). These are ways how cholesterol travels in the blood.
LDL is the primary source of plaque that clogs arteries. HDL works to remove cholesterol from the blood.
Triglycerides are another type of fat in our bloodstream. Studies now show a link between high triglyceride levels and heart disease.
Some of the Main Symptoms of High Cholesterol
High cholesterol does not cause symptoms, so many individuals do not know their cholesterol levels are too high. Therefore, it is essential to learn what your cholesterol numbers are.
Reducing cholesterol levels that are too high lowers your chances of developing heart disease and lowers the risk of a heart attack or dying from heart disease, even if you already have it.
Cholesterol Numbers You Should Look for
Some physicians or healthcare providers recommend that everybody over the age of twenty have their cholesterol levels evaluated at least once every five years. Doctors typically perform a lipoprotein profile, which is a blood test that includes the following:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol)
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL or good cholesterol)
- Total cholesterol level
Interpreting Your Cholesterol Numbers
Low-density Lipoprotein (Ldl or Bad Cholesterol) Category
- Less than 100 – optimal LDL
- 100 to 129 – near to optimal or superior to optimal LDL
- 130 to 159 – high limit LDL
- 160 to 189 – high LDL
- 190 and above – Very high LDL
High-density Lipoprotein (Hdl or Good Cholesterol) Category
- 60 or higher – desirable (helps reduce the risk of heart disease)
- Less than 40 – significant risk factor (increases the risk of developing heart disease)
HDL cholesterol (the good one) protects against heart disease and other conditions, so higher numbers are better for HDL.
Total Cholesterol Numbers Category
- Less than 200 – desirable cholesterol
- 200 to 239 – high limit cholesterol
- 240 and above – high cholesterol
Triglycerides (Hdl- Cholesterol Category)
- Less than 150 – normal or desirable cholesterol
- 150 to 199 – high limit HDL
- 200 to 499 – high HDL
- Over 500 – very high HDL
Some Factors That Affect Cholesterol Levels
A variety of factors may affect your cholesterol levels, which include:
Saturated fats, trans fats, carbohydrates, and cholesterol in foods may raise cholesterol levels. Reducing the number of saturated fats, trans fats, and sugars in your nutrition aids in lowering your blood cholesterol level. Boosting the amount of fiber and plant-derived sterols may also help lower LDL cholesterol (the bad one).
Being overweight, in addition to putting you in danger of heart disease, may also increase cholesterol. However, losing weight can help lower LDL, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels and increase HDL.
Regular exercise may lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. Therefore, you should try to be physically active for thirty minutes daily.
Your Age and Gender
As we age, cholesterol levels increase. Before menopause, females tend to have lower total cholesterol levels than males of the same age. However, after menopause, women´s LDL levels tend to increase.
Family Background and Heritage
Your genes determine, in part, how much cholesterol your body produces. So high blood cholesterol may run in families.
Your Medical Conditions
Occasionally, a medical condition may cause elevated blood cholesterol levels. These medical conditions include hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland), liver disease, and kidney disease.
Some medications, such as steroids and progestins, may increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and decrease the good one (HDL cholesterol).
How is High Cholesterol Managed?
The main goals when treating high cholesterol are to lower LDL levels and reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases. To lower cholesterol, you should eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight. Some individuals may also require taking cholesterol-lowering medicines.
Your physician or healthcare providers determine your targets for lowering LDL based on how many risk factors you have for heart disease.
Depending on your chances of developing heart disease, your physician or healthcare provider will determine how much LDL-lowering you need and prescribe medication as appropriate.
When Someone Needs Treatment for High Cholesterol
Many physicians and healthcare providers recommend treating anybody suffering from cardiovascular disease (CVD) with high-dose statin therapy. This cardiovascular disease includes those with coronary artery disease and who have had a stroke.
For those who do not suffer from cardiovascular disease, physicians and healthcare providers determine the treatment by the patient’s particular risk of developing heart disease. That risk may be estimated using calculators considering age, sex, medical history or records, and other characteristics.
If your risk of developing heart disease is high (such as a 7.5 or ten percent risk of developing CVD over ten years), your physician or healthcare provider may begin preventive treatment. They usually consider your preferences about taking medications in general.
For those individuals whose vulnerability is unclear, a coronary artery calcium score, a screening test that looks for calcium (a sign of atherosclerosis) in the arteries, may assist in determining the need for statins.
For those individuals with cardiovascular disease, as for those without, when their doctors decide to start medication, the first choice is typically a statin.
Other notable groups that may need treatment include:
- Individuals with high triglyceride levels may benefit from treatment if they have other risk factors.
- Patients with diabetes are at high risk, and physicians recommend an LDL below a hundred for most of them.
- Older adults as healthy, active older adults may benefit from the lowering they need, and the doctor will prescribe medication accordingly.
Medications to Treat High Cholesterol
Cholesterol-lowering medicines include the following:
Statins inhibit the production of cholesterol in the liver. As a result, they lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides and have a mild effect on increasing HDL (good cholesterol). These drugs are the initial line of treatment for most patients with high cholesterol.
Statins warn that possible side effects are feasible: memory loss, mental confusion, muscle aches, neuropathy, liver problems, high blood sugar, and type 2 diabetes. In addition, it is necessary to remember that statins may also interact with other drugs.
- PCSK9 inhibitors
Doctors prescribe these drugs to patients who cannot control their cholesterol through lifestyle and statin treatments. These drugs inhibit a protein called PCSK9 to make it simpler for the body to remove LDL from the blood. They are mainly used in adults with a genetic condition that makes it difficult to lower their cholesterol level or for individuals with heart disease who need more than a statin.
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors
These inhibitors work to lower LDL by inhibiting the absorption in the intestines. Combining these inhibitors with certain statins may decrease total and LDL cholesterol and raise HDL levels.
Niacin is a B-complex vitamin found in foods, but also available in high doses by prescription. It lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raises HDL cholesterol. However, recent studies suggest that niacin may improve cholesterol levels but not help prevent heart attacks.
- Bile acid binder drugs
These drugs work within the intestine, attaching to bile and preventing it from being absorbed into the circulatory system. As a result, these drugs reduce the body´s cholesterol supply, lowering total and LDL cholesterol. Constipation, gas, and stomach upset are common side effects.
Fibrates reduce triglyceride levels and may increase HDL and reduce LDL cholesterol. The mechanism of action is unclear, but doctors believe that fibrates enhance the breakdown of triglyceride-rich particles and decrease the secretion of specific lipoproteins. In addition, they induce the synthesis of HDL.
- Combination medications
Some individuals with high cholesterol achieve the best results with combination medications. These medications treat cholesterol problems; doctors sometimes combine them with blood pressure medications in a single pill.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs are most effective when integrated with a healthy diet and physical activity.
Side effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs may include:
- muscle aches (when experiencing muscle aches, call your doctor immediately, as this could be a sign of a life-threatening condition).
- abnormal liver function
- allergic reactions such as skin rash
- abdominal pain
- decreased sex drive
- memory problems
Ask your physician about other medications you are taking, including herbs and vitamins, and their impact on cholesterol-lowering drugs. For example, you should not drink grapefruit juice while taking some cholesterol-lowering medications, as it may interfere with the liver’s ability to metabolize these medications.
At Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, we are here to answer vital questions about how some conditions could affect your heart. Our team of expert cardiologists is here to help you manage, prevent, and treat all aspects of cardiovascular disease.
We are Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, a diagnostic and preventative medicine cardiology practice. For more information, contact us.
Every heart has a story… What’s yours?
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Modern Heart and Vascular, a preventive cardiology medical practice, has several offices around Houston. We have locations in Humble, Cleveland, The Woodlands, Katy, and Livingston.
We are Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, a diagnostic and preventative medicine cardiology practice.
Every heart has a story… What’s yours?
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This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930.