The Fundamentals of High Cholesterol

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Millions of people around the world suffer from high cholesterol...it has been called the silent killer and is one of the leading causes of heart attacks and strokes...but what should we know about high cholesterol?

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found naturally in the human body.

What is cholesterol used for? Cholesterol is an essential building block for the human body. It is used to build hormones, vitamin D, and substances critical to digestion.

What causes high cholesterol?

Diet - Excess consumption of foods high in trans fat, saturated fat and cholesterol can increase our cholesterol levels.

Weight gain - As we put on weight and eventually become overweight the cholesterol levels in our bodies rise. Overtime this increase in cholesterol will eventually lead to high cholesterol.

Genetics - Our genes may predispose/put us at risk for high cholesterol.

Age - As we get older our cholesterols levels naturally start to rise.

Why is it essential to lower high cholesterol levels?

High cholesterol levels lead to plaque buildup within the arteries of our hearts. This plaque buildup can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and even death.

What are the signs and symptoms of high cholesterol?

Unfortunately, there are NO signs or symptoms of high cholesterol, which is why it has been dubbed the silent killer.

How is high cholesterol diagnosed?

High cholesterol is diagnosed by health care professionals. A blood test called a lipoprotein panel is used to evaluate the levels of cholesterol in our blood. The lipoprotein panel breaks down cholesterol levels into four parts: total cholesterol, low-density cholesterol (LDL), high-density cholesterol (HDL) and triglycerides. Health care professionals base their diagnoses on the aforementioned lipoprotein panel to determine if we do in fact have high cholesterol.

What does total cholesterol measure?

Total cholesterol is a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in our blood, including LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol.

What is LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol?

LDL cholesterol or what is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol is the main source of plaque buildup in our arteries. LDL levels let health care professionals know how much LDL we have in our blood. Ideally we would like to have low LDL levels.

HDL cholesterol or what is often referred to as "good" cholesterol is responsible for the removal of cholesterol from our arteries. HDL levels let the health care professional know how much HDL we have in our blood. In this case the more HDL we have in our blood the better. Why, because HDL keeps our cholesterol levels within the ideal range and our arteries clean and clear of plaque.

What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in our blood. Health care professionals pay special attention to triglyceride levels because high triglycerides in our blood put us at risk for heart disease.

What are desirable levels vs. high levels of: total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol?

Total Cholesterol Level Total Cholesterol Category

Less than 200mg/dL Desirable

200-239mg/dL Borderline high

240mg/dL and higher High

LDL Cholesterol LDL Cholesterol Category

Less than 100mg/dL Desirable

130-159mg/dL Borderline high

160-189mg/dL High

HDL Cholesterol HDL Cholesterol Category

60mg/dL Most desirable and considered protective against heart disease

40-59mg/dL Desirable

Less than 40mg/dL Least desirable/heart disease risk

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Dr Marc Macera's picture
About Author:

Hello, my name is Dr. Macera, PharmD, RPh. I am a clinical pharmacist with over a decade of experience practicing and studying at such institutions as: Harvard University, Northeastern University and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I hope to both educate and inform through compelling blog posts.