Hyperlipidemia is the medical term for elevated levels of lipids (fat) in the bloodstream. These fats are known as cholesterol and triglycerides. High levels of these substances may not cause any physical symptoms right away but can eventually increase the risk for thickened or hardened arteries, especially in the heart. Hardened arteries in the heart are referred to as coronary artery disease (CAD), which is a major cause of death in the United States today. Knowing the facts about cholesterol and how it affects your health can reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Cholesterol is a substance found in both the bloodstream and in the body’s cells. It is an important part of maintaining a healthy body; however, too much cholesterol in the blood creates risk for heart disease and stroke. Seventy-five percent of blood cholesterol is made by the body, and the rest comes from foods in the diet. There are two main types of cholesterol:
- low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol)
- high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (“good” cholesterol)
Along with other substances, LDL tends to form plaque on arteries making them narrow and less flexible. To prevent this, LDL levels should be below 100 mg/dl and even lower if you have other chronic medical conditions that put you at risk for heart disease. In contrast, high HDL levels (above 50 mg/dl) are thought to protect against plaque buildup and heart disease.
Triglycerides are a type of fat made by the body, and they can also contribute to arterial blockage and other serious conditions. High levels can be caused by eating lots of carbohydrates or from obesity, sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol use, and cigarette smoking. The goal for triglyceride levels should be below 150 mg/dl.
There are several possible strategies for lowering your cholesterol. The approach you choose depends on your cholesterol readings, general health risk factors, family history, and concurrent conditions. Lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments are extremely important for all patients.
Dietary guidelines include a diet that lowers total calorie intake and reduces total fat and cholesterol intake especially by focusing on reducing the consumption of saturated fats. Reading food labels and being aware of the cholesterol content of foods is a cornerstone of cholesterol management.
Regular exercise also plays an important role in reducing your risk for heart disease by increasing your good cholesterol.
Some patients may require medication to help lower cholesterol levels.
The important thing to remember is that the best approach for treating your cholesterol and avoiding clogged arteries is a proactive one. The first step in managing your cholesterol is to have your fasting lipid profile checked. If your levels are high, you can discuss the best treatment plan with your health care professional at Family Medicine Associates.