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Disease at a Glance: Cholesterol (High)

Hypercholesterolemia, or elevated cholesterol levels in the blood stream, is a medical condition that significantly ups your risk of having a heart attack. What makes matters worse is the lack of visible symptoms – a blood test is the only way to detect high cholesterol. So it’s possible that by the time you are diagnosed with hypercholesterolemia, your arteries may have already started getting clogged!

 

Just by itself cholesterol isn’t a bad thing. In fact, our body requires it to make new cell membranes – as do all animals. But when there’s too much cholesterol in the blood stream, it tends to build up on the inner walls of the arteries. Together with other fatty substances like triglycerides, this forms a plaque-like deposit over time, narrowing the arteries.

 

If left untreated, the blood-flow in the arteries could get blocked, resulting in heart attack. This is why keeping our cholesterol levels in check is a good way to keep our heart healthy and lower the chances of getting heart disease.

 

Cholesterol Levels

< 200 mg/dL: Desirable
200-239 mg/dL: Borderline High
 > 239 mg/dL: High Risk

 

Cholesterol is a fatty, wax-like substance. It is insoluble in water and, hence, cannot travel through the body unaided. Lipoproteins are required to transport cholesterol through the blood stream. Low-density lipoproteins (or LDL) carry the cholesterol from the liver to other parts of the body, while high-density lipoproteins (or HDL) return it back to the liver from where it’s passed from the body. This is why HDL is commonly referred to as good cholesterol, while LDL is called bad cholesterol.
 

A blood test to check for hypercholesterolemia is done after 9-12 hours of fasting (water intake is permissible). The total cholesterol level in the bloodstream is calculated by taking into LDL, HDL and triglycerides. Anything below 200 mg/dL is desirable; between 200-239 is borderline high; upwards of 240 is considered high-risk.

 

Cholesterol is produced naturally in our body. We add to this by eating food rich in saturated fat (red meat, animal fat, hydrogenated oil, diary products). This is where the danger lies. Cutting down saturated fat intake and exercising regularly can go a long way in keeping cholesterol levels in check.

 


Key Diagnostic Tests: LDL Cholesterol, HDL Cholesterol, Total Cholesterol, VLDL, Triglycerides (often clubbed together as Lipid Profile)

 

Additional Tests: Blood Glucose Level, Body Mass Index (BMI)

 

Doctor Specialty: Lipidologist / General Physician / Cardiologist (in case of complications)

 

Risk factors: Obesity, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, family history, diabetes, etc.

 

Common Products: Fish Oil, Flaxseed, Garlic, Ayurveda & Homeopathy products


 

References:

1) American Heart Association (www.heart.org)
2) US National Library of Medicine (www.nlm.nih.gov)
3) John Hopkins Medicine (www.hopkinsmedicine.org)

 

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