What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance your liver produces to protect nerves and to make cell tissue and certain hormones. Your body also gets cholesterol from the food you consume. This includes eggs, meats, and dairy. Too much bad cholesterol (LDL) can be bad for your health. There is “good” (HDL) cholesterol and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol

What is the difference between “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol?

Good cholesterol is known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL). It eliminates cholesterol from the bloodstream. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the “bad” cholesterol.

If your total cholesterol level is high because of a high LDL level, you might be at higher risk of heart disease or stroke. But, if your total cholesterol level is high only because of a high HDL level, you’re most likely not at greater risk.

Triglycerides are another type of fat in your blood. When you eat more calories than your body can use, it turns the additional calories into triglycerides.

Changing your lifestyle (diet and exercise) can improve your cholesterol levels, lower LDL and triglycerides, and raise HDL.

Your ideal cholesterol level will depend on your risk for heart disease.

Symptoms of high cholesterol

Oftentimes, there are no specific symptoms of high cholesterol. You could have high cholesterol and not know it.

If you have high cholesterol, your body may store the extra cholesterol in your arteries. These are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. A buildup of cholesterol in your arteries is called plaque. Over time, plaque can become hard and make your arteries narrow. Large deposits of plaque can totally block an artery. Cholesterol plaques can also break apart, leading to formation of a blood clot that blocks the flow of blood.

A blocked artery to the heart can lead to a heart attack. A blocked artery to your brain can cause a stroke.

A lot of people do not know that they have high cholesterol until they experience one of these life-threatening events. Some people find out with routine check-ups that include blood tests.

What causes high cholesterol?

Your liver produces cholesterol, but you also get cholesterol from food. Eating too many foods that are high in fat can increase your cholesterol level.

Being overweight and sedentary also leads to high cholesterol. If you are overweight, you probably have a higher level of triglycerides. If you do not exercise and are not active in general, it can lower your HDL (good cholesterol).

Your family history also impacts your cholesterol level. Research has shown that high cholesterol has a tendency to run in families. If you have an immediate family member that has it, you could have it, as well.

Smoking also causes high cholesterol. It lowers your HDL (good cholesterol).

How is high cholesterol diagnosed?

You can’t know if you have high cholesterol without having it checked. A simple blood test will show your cholesterol level.

Men 35 years of age and older and women 45 years of age and older should have their cholesterol checked. Men and women 20 years of age and older that have risk factors for heart disease should have their cholesterol checked. Teenagers might need to be checked if they are taking certain medications or have a strong family history of high cholesterol. Ask your doctor how often you should have your cholesterol checked.

Risk factors for heart disease include:

High cholesterol treatment

If you have high cholesterol, you may need to make some lifestyle adjustments. If you smoke, quit. Exercise on a regular basis. If you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10 pounds can improve your cholesterol levels and your risk for heart disease. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish.

Depending on your risk factors, your physician may prescribe medication and lifestyle changes.

For further information about Dr. Stengler’s practice and his clinic in Carmel Valley, California, please visit our website at MarkStengler.com or give us a call at (760) 274-2377