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Diseases & Conditions

Cholesterol

CholesterolCausesComplicationsMedicationsRisk FactorsTypes

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a chemical compound that is produced naturally by the body. It comprises fat (lipid) and steroid. It is an essential component of cell membrane and hormones.

Causes of high LDL levels

Much of body’s cholesterol requirement is produced by the liver. This requirement is for building membranes of the body’s cells and in the production of hormones like estrogen and testosterone. The remaining requirement is met through diet.

  • Diets which are rich in cholesterol include meat and poultry products while plant foods don’t have any. The liver is involved in regulation and provides the body with it when it requires. Diets which contain saturated fats andTrans fatty acids increase blood cholesterol levels.
  • When the liver malfunctions or if the diet provides more than required cholesterol, then there is an increase in its levels in blood, which increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Smoking is associated with increase in triglycerides and reduction in HDL. It also affects the heart muscle and increase the risk of heart attack.
  • High blood cholesterol levels are also a result of genes. A condition called familial hypercholesterolemia can result in very high cholesterol levels during birth itself. This increases the risk of heart attack several times.

Complications of high LDL and low HDL levels

Complications of high LDL and triglycerides include

  • Atherosclerosis or hardening of blood vessels
  • Coronary artery disease – Obstruction of coronary arteries of the heart
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack or death
  • Pancreatitis

Medications of Cholesterol

Lipid profile altering medication can be used for lowering LDL and increasing HDL. These include

  • statins like pravastatin sodium),lovastatin,
  • Nicotinic acids like Niacin, Niaspan,
  • fibric acid like Lopid, tricor
  • cholesterol absorption inhibitors like ezetimibe
  • bile acid sequestrants like cholestyramine

Risk factors for high cholesterol levels

  • Being overweight
  • Hereditary conditions like familial hypercholesterolemia
  • Eating fatty food
  • Faulty liver
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Diabetes
  • Low levels of HDL and higher than normal levels of LDL to begin with
  • Age

Testing for high cholesterol levels

In individuals with elevated risk of heart disease, testing of blood cholesterol levels is very essential. This is done by testing a blood sample taken after fasting for 12 hours. The blood is tested in the laboratory for total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, and triglyceride. It is recommended that this cholesterol test be done at least once in 5 years for high risk groups or in individuals with a total cholesterol more than 200 mg/dL and good cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL

Lowering blood cholesterol levels

Cholesterol levels can be lowered by changes to lifestyle. Reducing dietary intake of cholesterol often helps cut down levels. However, there is also a need to increase the levels of good cholesterol or HDL. Hence foods that are rich in HDL have to be consumed. Smoking should be avoided and weight loss also ensures a immediate increase in HDL and lowering of LDL. For those who cannot lower the levels of LDL by making changes to their lifestyle, medication is essential.

Types of Cholesterol

Broadly, there are two types of cholesterols, which have assumed great significance today. These are Low density cholesterol (LDL) and High density Cholesterol (HDL).

LDL is also known as bad cholesterol as higher levels of it are associated with formation of plaques in arteries and coronary artery disease. HDL on the other hand is considered good as it prevents plaque formation.

Total Blood cholesterol is the sum of the levels of these two variants.