What is high cholesterol?
When you have too much cholesterol in your bloodstream it is called hypercholesterolemia. Cholesterol is a waxy substance found only in foods that come from animals. Hypercholesterolemia increases your risk of heart disease.
The two most important components of cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called "bad" cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol. The goal of most cholesterol treatment is to decrease the LDL in your blood and to raise the HDL.
How does high cholesterol occur?
The most common cause of high cholesterol is eating foods that are high in fat.
Excess cholesterol causes deposits to form inside blood vessels. These deposits cause the blood vessels to narrow. Blood clots may form in these narrowed vessels and totally stop blood flow. When this happens in the heart it causes a heart attack.
What are the symptoms?
Hypercholesterolemia is a silent disease. There are no symptoms until complications have already developed, such as the chest pain of a heart attack or calf pain with walking, caused by narrowed or blocked arteries to the legs.
How is it diagnosed?
The doctor will order a blood test to check your cholesterol level.
You may need to fast before your blood test. This means you do not eat or drink anything except water for 12 hours before the test.
How is it treated?
A diet high in fiber and low in fat and cholesterol can help to lower cholesterol levels. Follow these guidelines for a healthy diet:
Increase the fiber in your diet by eating fruits and vegetables (especially leafy vegetables and fresh fruits), peas, dried beans, and whole grains.
Choose poultry, fish, or meatless entrees more often than you choose red meats.
Remove the skin before cooking chicken or turkey.
Use lean cuts of meat and trim off all visible fat. Keep portion sizes moderate.
Limit the amount of nuts you eat, especially nuts high in saturated fat. Examples of nuts that are especially high in saturated fat are cashews, pistachios, and Brazil and macadamia nuts.
Strictly limit your use of butter, margarine, regular cheeses, shortening, and tropical oils (such as coconut and palm oils), which are high in saturated fat. Use instead sunflower, safflower, soybean, canola, or olive oil and small amounts of soft tub margarines.
Replace whole milk dairy products with nonfat or low-fat milk, cheese, spreads, and yogurt.
Eat no more than four egg yolks per week. Use egg substitutes.
Avoid fatty desserts including ice cream, cream-filled cakes, cheesecakes, etc. Choose fresh fruits, nonfat frozen yogurt, Popsicles, etc.
Reduce the amount of fried foods, vending machine food, and fast food you eat.
Look for low-fat or nonfat varieties of the foods you like to eat, or look for substitutes.
Read labels on food packages.
You will need to lose weight if you are overweight. You should also exercise as approved by your doctor.
If neither diet nor exercise substantially reduce your cholesterol level, your doctor may prescribe medication.
How can I take care of myself and prevent hypercholesterolemia?
In addition to changing your diet, you can help lower your cholesterol by the following:
Get more exercise, especially aerobic exercise. Ask your doctor about an exercise prescription. Start slowly to avoid injury. Exercise helps raise HDL levels, improve circulation, decrease body fat, and tone muscles.
Maintain a normal weight.
Have your cholesterol levels and weight checked by your doctor.