A common myth about high cholesterol is that it only occurs because of unhealthy habits like poor dietary choices, lack of exercise, and smoking. On the contrary, anyone can develop high cholesterol levels, including marathon runners and other highly health-conscious people.

At Woodlands Vein Center & Preventative Medicine Clinic in Shenandoah, Texas, we take a comprehensive approach to cholesterol management that aims to normalize your blood lipid numbers quickly, reduce your risk of complications, and protect your long-term health.

Read on as board-certified nurse practitioner and clinical lipid specialist Eliza Codd, ARNP, FNP-BC, AG-ACNP-BC, CLS, discusses the ins and outs of high cholesterol, including how it develops in the absence of unhealthy lifestyle habits, and what you can do about it.

Understanding high cholesterol

If you have high cholesterol, it means there’s too much “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol circulating in your blood. LDL cholesterol accumulates on the walls of your arteries and makes them hard and inflexible, raising your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Your cholesterol levels can also be unhealthy if you have low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” kind that picks up excess blood cholesterol and carries it back to your liver for processing. Having healthy HDL cholesterol helps keep your LDL and total cholesterol levels in check.

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) using a simple blood draw and a lipid panel test. Optimal cholesterol levels are:

  • Total cholesterol levels of about 150 mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol levels of about 100 mg/dL
  • HDL cholesterol levels of at least 40 mg/dL in men, and 50 mg/dL in women
  • Triglyceride levels that are less than 150 mg/dL

Triglycerides are a type of blood-circulating fat that your body uses for energy. A combination of high triglycerides and high LDL cholesterol or low HDL cholesterol increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Common, silent, and damaging

Nearly 94 million American men and women have high cholesterol levels, or total cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dL. Known as hyperlipidemia, this condition doesn’t cause symptoms until it has inflicted a significant amount of damage on your cardiovascular system.

You can’t feel the daily effects or progressive toll that high cholesterol takes on your body, but letting the problem go untreated can raise your risk of serious health complications, ranging from high blood pressure (hypertension) and peripheral artery disease (PAD) to heart attack and stroke. People with high cholesterol are also more likely to have Type 2 diabetes.

Anyone can have high cholesterol

A wide range of factors can increase your chances of having high cholesterol. Chronic health conditions that promote high cholesterol include obesity, diabetes, thyroid disease, kidney disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, and lupus. Lifestyle choices can also make high cholesterol more likely:

  • Eating a diet that’s rich in saturated fats
  • Not getting enough physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Uncontrolled stress

But what if you don’t have any chronic illnesses, you’re very fit and active, you eat well, you’re not overly stressed, and you don’t smoke or drink — and you still have high cholesterol?

Family history

What many people don’t know is that high cholesterol often has a strong genetic component, meaning it tends to run in families. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, you’re far more likely to develop the problem, too; in fact, you may need to get your cholesterol levels checked more often than people who don’t have the same genetic predisposition.

Familial hypercholesterolemia

Some people have high cholesterol because of an inherited genetic disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). FH makes it harder for the body to remove LDL cholesterol from the blood, or break it down in the liver. For the one in 250 Americans who have FH, treatment is especially important — one in two people (50%) living with untreated FH has a heart attack by the time they’re 50 years old.

Advancing age

Family history, inactivity, and unhealthy eating patterns can lead to high cholesterol in people of all ages, including children: Pediatric blood lipid screening guidelines recommend periodic cholesterol testing starting at nine years old.

Even so, it’s important to recognize everyone’s risk for high cholesterol goes up with age, simply because older bodies (even fit, healthy ones) can’t clear cholesterol from the blood as efficiently as younger bodies.

The bottom line on high cholesterol

Anyone can develop high cholesterol, including healthy, active people. Luckily, finding out you have it is the first step in getting it under control. With a comprehensive evaluation of your medical history, family history, and lifestyle, we can come up with an effective treatment plan to get your numbers down.

To learn more about cholesterol management at Woodlands Vein Center & Preventative Medicine Clinic in Shenandoah, Texas, call or click online and schedule a visit today.

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