Cholesterol: Types, Risks, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Management

Cholesterol: Types, Risks, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Management

On the TV, you see a couple in their late 30s, shopping at the grocery store. The wife looks perplexed staring at the cooking oil section. After some deliberation, she adds a bottle of some “heart-healthy” oil to the cart, looks assured and smiles to herself.

Many such ads over the years have attempted to bring awareness on our heart health, cholesterol levels and overall sense of wellbeing. But do we really know enough about cholesterol?

If you do know what “cholesterol” is but want to understand its types, causes, risk factors, symptoms and management, read on.

Most of us are aware that right cholesterol levels are essential for good health. But knowing when the condition can become dangerous enough to trigger cardiac ailments is equally important, right?

While most people blame unhealthy meals and a sedentary lifestyle for high cholesterol counts, what's interesting to note is that the cause behind high cholesterol may go beyond diet and physical activity. Therefore, to know what the reason could be we must first understand what cholesterol exactly is.

What is cholesterol?

The oft-feared term “cholesterol” is nothing but a fat-like waxy substance produced by the liver. Simply put, it is a kind of lipid or fat-like molecule circulating in the bloodstream. What’s interesting to note is how cholesterol is crucial for the formation of certain cell membranes, hormones and vitamins. Since cholesterol does not dissolve in water and cannot travel through the blood, the liver produces lipoproteins to transport it. Here’s what lipoproteins are.

Lipoproteins: Particles in our body that are made up of fat and protein are called lipoproteins. These are responsible for carrying two lipids i.e. cholesterol and triglycerides through the bloodstream. The two major types of lipoproteins include low-density lipoprotein also called LDL and high-density lipoprotein called HDL.It is here how cholesterol becomes good or bad.

When the blood contains high amounts of low density lipoproteins, it is known as high cholesterol. High cholesterol when undetected or untreated may lead to cardiac complications. Often, there are no apparent symptoms of increasing cholesterol levels until the symptoms get worse. Therefore, it is important to keep a check on the cholesterol count and know when the numbers get high. Getting cholesterol counts checked on a regular basis is a good precautionary step for people with underlying medical conditions. This can easily get done by lipid or liver profile tests that are offered at several places. For better safety and convenience, book 1Tab’s full-body checkup or a cholesterol test right from the comfort of your home and take your first step to wellness, today. Testing can help you assess the number of good or bad cholesterol in the body.

To understand this better let’s see what makes cholesterol essentially good or bad cholesterol? Read on!


What is “Good Cholesterol”?

Good cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) enables the body to remove LDL (Low-density cholesterol) by returning it to the liver. A healthy HDL cholesterol level, therefore, can help lower the risk of cardiac diseases, stroke or blood clots.

What is “Bad Cholesterol”?

Low-density Lipoprotein or bad cholesterol, as already mentioned carries the cholesterol to the arteries. When the level of LDL is very high, it builds up the artery walls and leads to cholesterol plaque. This plaque build up not only narrows the arteries but also limits blood flow and raises the risk of blood clots. When such a clot goes on to block arteries, it may lead to cardiac arrest.

What are Triglycerides?

Just like the body utilizes cholesterol for the formation of vitamin D, hormones and cells, triglycerides act as a source of energy for the body. When our diet contains more calories than we can use right away, the body converts idle calories into triglycerides that are stored in the fat cells. When the levels of triglyceride become high, it may cause severe health issues. Let’s understand the relationship between high cholesterol and our diets and whether these “ heart healthy” options really help. Read on!                              

Causes of high cholesterol

Being aware of the root cause of  high cholesterol levels is essential for managing it effectively. Here are all the primary causes that lead to bad cholesterol.

  • Inactivity
    Sedentary and stressful routines are the biggest reasons behind rise in cholesterol levels. Regular exercise, on the other hand, is the best way to ensure cholesterol levels are kept in check. Therefore, stay physically active and keep a consistent fitness routine to keep the risk of high cholesterol at bay.  Any convenient form of activity like taking the stairs, yoga, brisk walking, jogging, aerobics, swimming or dancing 3-4 times a week can boost overall wellness.  Additionally,  it is important for parents to ensure that their children make healthy dietary choices to keep obesity at bay. Keep a tab on on screen time and encouraging kids to be involved in some form of physical activity can also help greatly.
  • Obesity
    Obesity due to inactivity doubles up the risk of heart problems. Belly fat is another reason that reduces the amount of good cholesterol in the body while increasing the levels of bad cholesterol.
  • Genes
    Your hereditary plays a major role in affecting our cholesterol levels. Some genes that are passed down from our parents may instruct the body on a certain way of processing cholesterol and fats. In some cases, the offspring of parents with high cholesterol may invariably pass down high cholesterol to them or make them susceptible to the disease. Rarely, a genetic disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia may lead to high cholesterol in children by preventing their bodies from removing Low Density Lipoproteins or LDL. 
  • Smoking
    According to WHO, tobacco causes 7 million deaths yearly across the globe. Smoking too is one of the leading causes of High cholesterol. Since nicotine is known to cause thickening of the arteries, it may lead to clotting and higher levels of cholesterol. The habit substantially increases the risk of chronic diseases including cardiac diseases. Therefore, it is best that you kick out the habit at the earliest.
  • Diet
    Eating food that is high in trans fat, saturated fats and high cholesterol increases the risk of developing cholesterol-induced diseases. Additionally, food items that are high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats may increase your risk of developing high cholesterol. Additionally, a diet that is high in preservatives reduces good cholesterol which too is detrimental to health.
Food items to avoid in high cholesterol-min

What are High Cholesterol Symptoms?         

As already mentioned, high cholesterol does not come with any apparent symptoms. However, when the cholesterol levels become very high some people may experience the following symptoms.

  • Have fatty bumps on the skin
  • Have grayish-white rings around the cornea

Generally, cholesterol is considered a “silent” condition wherein most people don’t even experience symptoms until they develop a serious disease. This is why most doctors recommend that everyone over 20 years of age should get cholesterol screening to know our cholesterol levels. Read on to know how you can get your cholesterol level checked with ease, the frequency of taking the cholesterol test and more.

Who is at risk?

While age may increase your risk of developing high cholesterol, the following people may be at a higher risk.

  • Those who are obese or overweight and eat a diet high in saturated fats, preservatives and processed foods.
  • People who do not exercise or are sedentary
  • Those who have a family history of high cholesterol 
  • Men or women who smoke
  • Patients with hypothyroidism, diabetes and kidney ailments

How is high cholesterol diagnosed?

If you belong to any of the aforementioned brackets and fear about your cholesterol count, get a lipid done at the earliest. It is a no-frills test wherein doctors make use of a lipid panel and measure your lipid profiles including your HDL, LDL and triglycerides. This would include the overall cholesterol in your blood. Anyone with high LDL levels and low HDL levels is proven to have high cholesterol. Diagnosing high cholesterol levels using a lipid panel through a blood test is the most common diagnostic procedure. This enables medical professionals to assess all the lipid profiles including the levels of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

The test is conducted via a simple blood test. If you are someone who prefers ease, consider at-home lipid done from 1Tab. To get accurate readings of the test, you may have to follow some preparatory measures. For instance, your doctor may advise you to avoid drinking or eating for about 12 hours before the test.

How to keep up healthy cholesterol levels?

Healthy cholesterol levels can be maintained by adopting certain lifestyle and dietary changes. Read on to know some of the additions and reductions you must follow to keep up your wellness.

Add soluble fiber to your diet
Increasing the daily consumption of soluble fiber helps decrease the risks of cholesterol.  The sources of soluble fiber include oats, apple, orange, spinach, peanut, lentils, among other things. Additionally amp up the amount of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats and fibers in your diet. Eating a low-salt diet can help you decrease the risk of high cholesterol. Similarly, limiting animal fats and having good fats only in moderation can help you stay at a healthy cholesterol count.

Keep alcohol in check
Since drinking alcohol requires your liver to break the alcohol down to triglycerides and cholesterol, it not only leads to an increase in the blood pressure but also increases weight. Therefore, limiting liquor can be a good way to reduce cholesterol.

Avoid fat-free foods
Often people who follow a strictly fat-free diet are known to have high cholesterol levels. While it is true that saturated and trans fats have adverse effects on the body, not many people know that polyunsaturated and unsaturated fats can benefit the body and even help reduce cholesterol levels. Food items like avocados, olives, dry fruits, sunflower seeds and canola oil are a few beneficial sources of unsaturated fats or good fats. These when had in moderation can greatly help keep up healthy functioning of the body.

Avoid these food items
Animal products including red meat, egg yolks and dairy are known to contain dietary cholesterol. People with high levels of LDL may be recommended to  limit the consumption of such foods. However, those who are at a higher risk of getting cholesterol must avoid the following food items.

  • Liver and other organ meats
  • Egg yolks
  • Red meat with fatty cuts
  • High-fat dairy including ice cream, high-fat cheese, butter, etc.

The Bottom Line:

It is recommended that people who have a tendency of high cholesterol must stick to their doctor’s suggestions and have their medicines on time. As a precautionary measure, buy your prescribed medicines in advance so that you do not have to go without a single dose. For greater convenience, you can browse through 1Tab’s wide range of medicines and order monthly refills just in a few taps. In case you have a family history of the disease but haven’t got yourself tested yet, ensure you book a lipid test right from the comfort of your home. 

By: Anubha Hatwal | on 2021-04-15

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