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What is Cholesterol?

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is produced naturally in the intestines and liver. It is necessary in the production of cell membranes and hormones. It is carried through the body via the blood, and it is an important and necessary component for humans. When levels of cholesterol in the blood are too high, however, it can be dangerous. In addition to causing damage to arteries, high cholesterol has been linked to various cardiovascular diseases that can be deadly when left untreated.

All mammals need cholesterol to produce hormones, vitamin D, and the bile that digests food and fat. Only a small amount is required, and unfortunately, many people have too much cholesterol in the bloodstream. The excess builds up the walls of arteries that supply blood to the entire body including the heart, lungs, and legs. Build up can lead to plaque that causes the arteries to become narrower or blocked entirely. This causes a decreased blood supply to the affected areas of the body and can cause peripheral artery disease, stroke, chest pain, and heart attack.

Risks of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol can be caused by a number of factors. Some of the most common risk factors include poor diet, being overweight, and not getting regular physical activity. Heredity also plays an important role in how the body metabolizes cholesterol. In some cases, a heredity condition known as familial hypercholesterolemia can be to blame for high cholesterol. Age, sex, alcohol consumption, and chronic stress may also put certain individuals at risk for high cholesterol. In rarer cases, underlying conditions that affect the kidneys, liver, or thyroid may be the cause.

On its own, high cholesterol does not cause any distinguishable symptoms. As a result, it often is not detected until it creates a larger problem like chest pain or stroke. Since cholesterol levels can be determined through simple blood tests, doctors recommend that individuals over the age of 20 have their cholesterol levels checked at least once every five years.

Treating High Cholesterol

Once high cholesterol levels have been detected, the exact course of treatment varies. In young, otherwise healthy adults without risk factors like genetics, doctors may recommend weight loss through a healthier diet and increased exercise. These lifestyle changes are often enough to manage high cholesterol. In other cases, prescription medications designed to decrease the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood may be prescribed. If high cholesterol has already led to plaque build-up in the arteries, it may need to be removed, and narrow arteries may need to be widened. This is commonly done using a procedure known as angioplasty. When treated and cholesterol levels are reduced through lifestyle changes or medication, patients can greatly reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease