Finding out you have high cholesterol can feel disappointing, almost as if something you’ve done — or not done — has led to inadequate results on this fundamental “health test.” 

 But instead of seeing your diagnosis as bad news, you should view it as a wake-up call that gives you the opportunity to change your lifestyle habits for the better, improve your well-being, and protect your long-term health. Most importantly, you should treat it as a chance to reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.     

As a cholesterol management expert who offers a full scope of preventive cardiac care services at Woodlands Vein Center & Preventative Medicine Clinic, board-certified nurse practitioner Eliza Codd, ARNP, FNP-BC, AG-ACNP-BC, CLS, wants you to know that getting your cholesterol levels under control is one of the best things you can do for your heart health.  

This February, in recognition of American Heart Month, we’re exploring how high cholesterol elevates your heart disease risk — and what you can do about it. 

When blood cholesterol levels are high

Cholesterol is an essential waxy substance that your body uses to build cells, make vitamins, and create hormones. While your liver produces all the cholesterol you need to stay healthy, certain factors can actively increase the amount of cholesterol in your body, including:

  • A diet rich in saturated fat
  • Lack of exercise; inactivity
  • Unmanaged chronic stress 
  • Older age; family history
  • Smoking; drinking alcohol  

About 110 million people in the United States — or two in five adults — have high cholesterol, or total blood cholesterol numbers that measure above 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). 

High LDL cholesterol

High cholesterol (hyperlipidemia) occurs when you have excess “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol circulating through your bloodstream. LDL cholesterol is unhealthy because it readily accumulates in the walls of your blood vessels.  

Low HDL cholesterol

Your cholesterol numbers are also considered unhealthy if your levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol are low. HDL cholesterol is beneficial because it picks up excess LDL cholesterol and carries it to your liver for processing, keeping it out of your blood vessels. 

How high cholesterol affects your body

High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease — as well as a top risk factor for heart attack and stroke — because of what it does to your cardiovascular system when it’s allowed to persist unchecked. 

When sticky cholesterol deposits gradually become lodged in the walls of your arteries and veins, the affected blood vessels no longer function as free-flowing conduits. Instead, they become harder, narrower, and less flexible, gradually slowing or even eventually obstructing blood flow to various parts of your body — including your heart and brain. 

This condition, known as atherosclerosis, increases your risk of developing many serious cardiovascular complications, including: 

This condition, known as atherosclerosis, sets the stage for heart disease and increases your risk of developing many other serious cardiovascular complications, including:  

  • Coronary artery disease 
  • Carotid artery disease
  • Peripheral artery disease 
  • Renal artery stenosis 

Atherosclerosis significantly increases your risk of developing blood clots, too. A blood clot in an artery that blocks blood supply to your heart can trigger a heart attack; a blood clot in an artery that blocks blood supply to the brain can trigger a stroke. And when atherosclerosis weakens an arterial wall, it can lead to the formation of aneurysms.  

Experts are also learning that atherosclerosis can also lead to dangerous blood clots in your deep veins. Known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), this condition can give rise to a life-threatening pulmonary embolism if the clot breaks free and travels to your lungs.  

Reaching healthier blood lipid numbers 

Heart disease linked to atherosclerosis — which starts with uncontrolled high cholesterol — is the leading cause of death in the U.S. An estimated half of Americans aged 45 and older have atherosclerosis and don’t know it.

Luckily, early diagnosis and treatment of atherosclerosis can help you slow or stop disease progression and avoid or delay serious complications. Likewise, an early diagnosis of high cholesterol can give you time to reverse course, reach healthier numbers, and prevent the development of atherosclerosis.

A comprehensive cholesterol treatment approach includes: 

  • Heart-healthy dietary changes 
  • Beneficial lifestyle modifications 
  • Cholesterol-lowering medication
  • Existing chronic disease control 

Lifestyle changes that promote healthier cholesterol numbers include weight loss when needed, increased physical activity, effective stress management, smoking cessation, and limited alcohol consumption. 

Ready to get your cholesterol under control? We can help. Call or click online to schedule a visit at Woodlands Vein Center & Preventative Medicine Clinic in Shenandoah, Texas, today.

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