The Risks Of Ignoring High Cholesterol

If you have high cholesterol, you need to do something about it. The health risks associated with high cholesterol include heart attack and stroke.

With lifestyle changes—and sometimes prescription medications—you should be able to manage high cholesterol. However, before you begin trying to lower bad cholesterol, you’ll want to learn more about the problem. What is cholesterol and what are the risks of high cholesterol?

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a substance that your body needs to build healthy cells. It has a waxy consistency and is transported in your blood attached to proteins. These protein-cholesterol complexes are divided into two main types: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL).

LDL cholesterol is “bad,” while HDL cholesterol is “good.” A subtype of LDL cholesterol called VLDL (the “V” stands for very) is the worst kind of cholesterol.

Cholesterol is routinely cleared from your bloodstream and returned to your liver to be eliminated from your body—at least HDL cholesterol is. The problem with LDL cholesterol (and VLDL cholesterol) is that it tends to stick to the sides of your arteries.

What Is High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood. High cholesterol, or “hypercholesterolemia,” occurs when the LDL cholesterol concentration in your blood reaches dangerous levels.

According to the Mayo Clinic (2010), people at high risk for heart disease should have LDL cholesterol levels below 100 mg/dL.

Others should aim for LDL cholesterol levels below 129 mg/dL. For these individuals, cholesterol above 130 mg/dL is considered borderline high and levels above 160 mg/dL and 190 mg/dL, are considered high and very high, respectively.

Regular blood tests to check cholesterol levels can help you and your doctor determine if you need to think about ways to lower your bad cholesterol.

The Risks of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. Excess LDL cholesterol in your blood is deposited on artery walls, including those that deliver blood to your heart and brain. This trapped cholesterol and the resulting scar tissue causes your arteries to become narrow and hard over time.

Eventually, blood may not be able to pass through these clogged arteries, which can cause a stroke or heart attack. To avoid these life-threatening complications, work with your doctor to lower your bad cholesterol and increase your good cholesterol.

Resources

Mayo Clinic. (2010). High cholesterol. Retrieved January 7, 2011, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-cholesterol/DS00178

University of Maryland Medical Center. (2006). High cholesterol guide. Retrieved January 7, 2011, from http://www.umm.edu/careguides/000242.htm