Cholesterol is an essential component of cells in the body and the human body needs it for the synthesis of vital enzymes and hormones. However, cholesterol when in excess is harmful to the human body and it has been attributed as the main cause in heart attacks and strokes. The increase in body cholesterol is referred to as Hypercholesterolemia.
The main pathology caused by hypercholesterolemia is the gradual accumulation of fatty plaques within blood vessels leading to the narrowing of its caliber. This affect the amount of blood supplied to the target organ(s). In this article, we are going to review 10 important things you should know about cholesterol.
1. Types of Cholesterol
Hypercholesterolemia is defined as the increase in the amount of cholesterol in the body. Cholesterol is obtained via diet and it is a major component of the membrane of cells in the body. When cholesterol is absorbed by the body it is transported as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) or high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL and VLDL are seldom referred to as bad cholesterol while HDL is protective. For health, there must be a balance between HDL and LDL.
2. Foods rich in cholesterol
Diet is known to be a major factor that increases blood cholesterol level. Foods from animal sources are the main culprit hence the risk of developing increase cholesterol levels significantly lower in vegetarians. Food like red meat, egg yolk and cheese can elevate your blood cholesterol levels.
3. Causes/risk factors of increased cholesterol level
Certain risk factors have been attributed to Hypercholesterolemia. Rick factors like obesity, physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyle, the age of the patient, the sex and genetics may have significant roles in increasing one’s cholesterol levels. Certain types of hypercholesterolemia are hereditary and can be transferred from parent to siblings, excessive smoking of cigarette and drinking of alcohol, prolong use of steroids and contraceptive pills are also key risk factors.
4. Effects of cholesterol in the body
With an increase in the amount of cholesterol in the blood especially LDL, it tends to accumulate within the lumen (because of its waxy nature) and blocks major blood vessels in the body. Blood vessels frequently affected are the blood vessels that supply the heart and the brain. It is also important to note that other blood vessels can be affected. When this occurs, there is a reduction in blood supply to the affected area hence that area is starved of oxygen and nutrients. This results in sudden death of the affected tissues and organs.
5. Symptoms of increased cholesterol
An increase in cholesterol level in the body may pass unknown by the affected individual because it may have no possible symptom. However, symptoms like recurrent chest pain that is classically gripping in nature, become severe on activity and resolves spontaneous with rest of vasodilators may be a pointer to an increased level of cholesterol. Also, patients with known heart disease and stroke must be evaluated for an increase in cholesterol level.
6. Physical signs of Hypercholesterolemia
Xanthomata and Xanthelasma are signs suggestive of Hypercholesterolemia. It is usually seen around the tendons caused by the deposition of cholesterol plaques in the affected tendons and in the eyelids and other part of the skin from the deposition of cholesterol plaques respectively.
7. How cholesterol level is measured
Measurement of body cholesterol level is a relatively simple test which should be provided by most hospitals and standard medical laboratories. Before the test, you will be told by your doctor not to eat or drink anything for 8-12 hours. Blood samples will be gotten from you for measurement. The test is also known has lipoprotein panel which will give your doctor detailed information on your cholesterol level. All components of cholesterol are measured and the results are reflected on the lipoprotein panel.
8. What is the treatment?
Treatment for increase cholesterol levels includes lifestyle modification, dietary restriction, cessation of cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption, weight loss, exercise and the use of drugs. These drugs are referred to as ‘cholesterol lowering agents’.
9. Children can also be affected
Contrary to the popular belief that increase in cholesterol level is only seen in the elderly. Several studies have shown that children as young as 4 years can have increase cholesterol level. This is specifically seen in children with a family history of hypercholesterolemia.
10. Low cholesterol is also harmful
Most physicians and the news media are all encouraging us to reduce our cholesterol levels, but they also forget to tell us that excessive low level of cholesterol is harmful to the body. Cholesterol is needed in the body for the synthesis of hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters and in the synthesis of vitamin D. It has also been found that low levels of cholesterol increases the risk of developing certain cancers.