Cholesterol, a waxy substance present in the bloodstream, plays a vital role in constructing healthy cells. However, elevated cholesterol levels can amplify the risk of heart disease. The surplus lipids can accumulate within arteries and interact with other compounds in the blood, leading to the formation of plaque—fatty deposits. Although this plaque may remain asymptomatic, it progressively grows within arteries, eventually impeding sufficient blood flow. In some cases, these deposits can rupture suddenly, causing blood clots that trigger heart attacks or strokes. Detecting high cholesterol requires a blood test.
While hereditary factors can contribute, high cholesterol predominantly arises from unhealthy lifestyle decisions, making it both preventable and manageable. A balanced diet, regular physical activity, and occasional medication can all contribute to lowering high cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol typically lacks noticeable symptoms and becomes apparent when it triggers other health issues. Detection relies on a blood test. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the first cholesterol screening is recommended between ages 9 and 11, with subsequent tests every five years. For men aged 45 to 65 and women aged 55 to 65, screenings every 1 to 2 years are advised. Individuals over 65 should undergo annual cholesterol tests. Doctors may suggest more frequent tests if results are unfavorable or if risk factors like family history, heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure are present.
Cholesterol travels in your bloodstream attached to proteins, forming lipoproteins. These come in different types:
Triglycerides, a blood fat, are also measured in lipid profiles and high levels raise heart disease risk. You can manage cholesterol through exercise, diet, and weight, while genetics also influence how your body handles cholesterol.
Unhealthy cholesterol levels can arise due to medical conditions like:
Certain medications for other health issues can also worsen cholesterol levels, including those for:
Risk factors contributing to the development of unhealthy cholesterol levels includes the following:
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