We will focus on cholesterol for the next few weeks. September is National Cholesterol Education Month in the USA and October is National Cholesterol month in the UK. Children, young adults and older people can have high cholesterol. Learn about cholesterol and know what your cholesterol levels mean.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that travels through the blood on proteins called lipoproteins. It comes from two sources:
- It’s made by your body and used to do important things, like make hormones and digest fatty foods.
- It’s found in many foods, like egg yolks, fatty meats, and regular cheese.
When your body has too much cholesterol, it can build up on the walls of your blood vessels. These deposits are called plaque. As your blood vessels build up plaque deposits over time, the inside of the vessels narrow and allows less blood to flow through to your heart and other organs.
When plaque buildup totally blocks a coronary artery carrying blood to the heart, it causes a heart attack. Another cause of heart attack is when a plaque deposit bursts and releases a clot in a coronary artery.
Angina is caused by plaque partially blocking a coronary artery, reducing blood flow to the heart and causing chest pain.
High Cholesterol Risk Factors: Are you at risk?
About one in every six adult Americans has high cholesterol. Anyone, including children, can develop it.
Several factors that are beyond your control can increase your risk. These include your age, sex, and heredity. But, there are some risk factors that you can change. Examples include eating an unhealthy diet, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise.
Conditions That Increase Risk for High Cholesterol
Having diabetes increases your risk for high cholesterol.
Your body needs glucose (sugar) for energy. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps move glucose from the food you eat to your body’s cells. If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, can’t use its own insulin as well as it should, or both.
Diabetes causes sugars to build up in the blood. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage diabetes and control other risk factors
Behaviors That Increase Your Risk for High Cholesterol
Your lifestyle choices can increase your risk for high cholesterol.
- Unhealthy Diet: Diets high in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol have been linked to high cholesterol and related conditions, such as heart disease.
- Physical Inactivity: Not getting enough physical activity can make you gain weight, which can lead to high cholesterol.
- Obesity: Obesity is excess body fat. Obesity is linked to higher triglycerides and higher “bad” cholesterol levels, and lower “good” cholesterol levels. In addition to high cholesterol, obesity can also lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Talk to your health care team about a plan to reduce your weight to a healthy level
Family History and Other Characteristics That Increase Risk for High Cholesterol
High cholesterol can run in families. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, you are more likely to have high cholesterol.
Family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles, and environments that can influence their health and their risk for disease. High cholesterol can run in a family, and your risk for high cholesterol can increase based on your age and your race or ethnicity.
Genetics and Family History:
When members of a family pass traits from one generation to another through genes, that process is called heredity.
Genetic factors likely play some role in high cholesterol, heart disease, and other related conditions. However, it is also likely that people with a family history of high cholesterol share common environments and other potential factors that increase their risk.
If you have a family history of high cholesterol, you are more likely to have high cholesterol. You may need to get your cholesterol levels checked more often than people who do not have a family history of high cholesterol.
The risk for high cholesterol can increase even more when heredity combines with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as eating an unhealthy diet.
Some people have an inherited genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia. This condition causes very high “bad” cholesterol levels beginning at a young age.
Age: Because your cholesterol tends to rise as you get older, your risk for high cholesterol increases with age.
Gender: Levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, rise more quickly for women than for men. However, until around age 55, women tend to have lower LDL levels than men do at any age, men tend to have lower high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol, than women do.
Race or ethnicity: Cholesterol levels vary by race and ethnicity.
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