High Cholesterol: An Overview
Cholesterol is the waxy, fat like substance your body needs to build cell walls and produce hormones such as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. The body produces some cholesterol in the liver and the rest is supplied by eating animal products such as meats, eggs, milk, and cheese.
Cholesterol becomes a problem when the body has more than it is able to use and it is unable to eliminate the excess. High cholesterol raises the chances of heart disease in women, which is the number one cause of death for both women and men in the United States. Before menopause, women generally have cholesterol levels lower than their male counterparts. After menopause, women will likely see their cholesterol levels rise.
High Cholesterol Symptoms
High cholesterol levels indicate an excess supply beyond what is healthy for your body. It can build up along the walls of arteries in the form of plaque creating a risk for heart attack or stroke. This condition is called atherosclerosis. Angina, or chest pain, can occur if the arteries that carry blood to the heart are unable to carry enough blood and oxygen due to plaque build-up.
Cholesterol is monitored through blood tests that calculate levels of both “good” (HDL) cholesterol and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. Ideally, the total for both levels will be less than 200. LDL levels should be below 130, or, even better, below 100. HDL levels are better when they are higher. Optimally, they will be higher than 60. Depending on your scores, your physician will evaluate your risk for heart disease. These tests are recommended for everyone at least once every five years.
High cholesterol can lead to heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and ultimately death.
LDL, or bad, cholesterol levels can be lowered by changing your diet to greatly restrict saturated fat intake. Exercise, diet control, and weight loss can be the strongest weapons when trying to lower cholesterol, with the added benefits of controlling diabetes and lowering blood pressure. 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week can raise good cholesterol levels and improve the fitness of your heart. Medication available by prescription can also be used to supplement efforts to reduce cholesterol through diet and exercise.