High cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) is often associated with a number of serious conditions, especially cardiovascular diseases. Will it eventually kill you or not? The answer is dependent on how well you can control it. The good news, it is manageable – there are plenty of options to manage it.
Cholesterol cannot move and travel through the circulation (bloodstream) by itself, because it doesn’t dissolve in the water. Lipoproteins, a biochemical containing both lipids and proteins, are required to carry cholesterol through the body. And you have two main forms of lipoproteins:
- HDL, it stands for high density lipoproteins. It is also known as ‘good cholesterol, why? Because it can help carry excess cholesterol back to the liver for elimination!
- LDL (low-density lipoproteins). It is the main target you need to decrease. It is considered as ‘bad cholesterol’ that can lead to a build-up of plaque in your artery.
Hypercholesterolemia is quite common. Even the average American, for example, has ‘borderline-high’ cholesterol levels.
It has reputation as the ‘silent killer’. Many people with hypercholesterolemia don’t know when they have it, because there is usually no sign and symptom of the condition. They are also less likely to seek medical help since it doesn’t cause pain.
To keep safe, it’s recommended to check it at least every 5 years. But if you have some or many risk factors of the condition, your doctor may ask you to check it more frequently. The risk factors include:
- If you’re a diabetic. Diabetes contributes to lower good cholesterol and higher bad cholesterol. High blood sugar level can also hurt the lining of arteries, particularly true if it is not well controlled.
- Obesity (BMI ‘body mass index’ is greater than 30). More pounds of excess weight you gain will put you at risk of developing hypercholesterolemia.
- The scale of your waist matters, too. A study suggests that the risk of high cholesterol increases if the waist circumference is greater than 39.9 inches (men), and 35 inches or greater (women). In other words, thin people are still at high risk if they have large waist circumference.
- Lack of physical activity. Regular exercise is good for everything, including for your HDL booster. It also plays a significant part to help keep your weight and waist ideal!
- Tobacco smoke can hurts lots of things in the body. It can also hurt your artery’s wall, making fatty deposits easy to accumulate. It may also contribute to lower your HDL.
- Bad diet, especially diet high in saturated fat. Dietary cholesterol can increase your LDL. But the effect of your dietary saturated fat is the leading cause.
All of these risk factors are manageable, even most of them are also preventable. But in a few cases, hypercholesterolemia is inherited. For such case, it is called as familial hypercholesterolemia.
Familial hypercholesterolemia is more difficult to treat. People with this disorder are relatively easier to have high cholesterol levels. Therefore they have to make more effort to manage their cholesterol. Fortunately, most cases of hypercholesterolemia are associated with how you live your life.
Cholesterol is not always bad. In fact, your body can make it naturally in the liver. Even your body needs healthy level of cholesterol to help serve several functions. For examples, it is required for the formation of cell membranes, the production of certain hormones, and vitamin D.
The problem arises when the level of your cholesterol in the blood is higher than normal.
If you have more cholesterol than your body needs, fatty deposits can easily build up in your arteries. Over time this can form hardened mixture of fat and cholesterol called ‘plaque’, making it more difficult for enough blood to flow as well as usual through your arteries!
The plaque can partially or completely block the blood flow. This could lead many problems throughout the body. And when the blood flow is completely blocked, this could be fatal.
The effects of the condition are not immediate. The damage and plaque can develop over years or even decades. For example, high cholesterol in 20s can take its toll in 50s.
Since the damage accumulates gradually, you might be unaware that it can be a serious threat of your life. You may think that you can cope with it later or may not feel the urgency to take preventive steps to control it! And if you wait too long, it could kill you.
Poorly-controlled high cholesterol in long term is linked to a number of serious problems – especially problems affecting the cardiovascular system. In fact, it is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease. And heart disease is the top, leading cause of death. It kills more people than any other disease, according to CDC.
The following is brief summary of how high cholesterol can lead to life-threatening conditions: