What is high cholesterol?
High cholesterol is a condition where the levels of cholesterol in the blood are raised to an unhealthy degree. Cholesterol is a type of fat (lipid) in the blood. To a certain extent, the amount of cholesterol in the blood depends on what you eat, but also on how the body synthesises the cholesterol in the liver. Too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to hardening and narrowing of the arteries also known as arteriosclerosis.
What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?
A person won’t be able to tell if he or she has high cholesterol or not, as the condition is symptomless. High cholesterol levels combined with other risk factors, however, can lead to diseases like arteriosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases involving a number of noticeable symptoms:
- Chest discomfort: A feeling that there’s a weight on the chest, possible with neck or arm pain as well, during physical activity or when exposed to cold, can be a sign of a lack of oxygen to the heart caused by a hardening of the coronary arteries.
- Calf muscle pain when you walk, dizziness, or loss of vision can be caused by circulatory problems originating from hardening of the arteries and fat deposits in the blood vessels supplying the muscles, brain and internal organs.
What are the causes of high cholesterol?
There are two types of cholesterol: The “good” cholesterol called HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) and the “bad” cholesterol called LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein). The amount of LDL compared to HDL is what determines your risk of developing arteriosclerosis or other cardiovascular diseases. This is because LDL contributes to the hardening of the arteries whereas HDL protects the arteries against this hardening.
Several factors contribute to the development of high cholesterol. High cholesterol may run in your family, and if family members have high cholesterol, you might get it too. This is called familial hypercholesterolemia. In addition, lifestyle plays an important role as a fatty diet, smoking, alcohol, obesity and low activity levels contribute to high cholesterol levels. Cholesterol levels are higher in Northern European countries than in Southern Europe and significantly higher than in Asia, which could be due to our lifestyle.
Cholesterol levels rise as we get older and over half of all adults in England have raised cholesterol, i.e. levels higher than 5.5 mmol/l. Women generally have higher levels of HDL than men, and this protects against arteriosclerosis.
What should my cholesterol levels be?
A blood test can be used to check the cholesterol levels and to find out whether they are too high based on the following intervals:
- Ideal total cholesterol level: 5 mmol/l or less
- Slightly raised cholesterol level: Between 5 and 6,4 mmol/l
- Moderately raised cholesterol level: Between 6,,5 and 7,8 mmol/l
- Very high cholesterol level: Above 7,8 mmol/l
How is high cholesterol treated?
Initially, the treatment will involve lifestyle changes, such as dietary changes, an increase in physical activity, no smoking and alcohol, and weight loss if necessary. If this is insufficient, some types of medication can be helpful. The effect of these medicines varies, and the choice of medicine thus depends on the ratio of LDL to HDL in the blood.