High Cholesterol – Symptoms, Cause and Available Treatments

High Cholesterol

High cholesterol (also known as hypercholesterolemia) is a common problem that affects 6 out of 10 adults in the UK. It is diagnosed when higher than normal levels of lipoproteins (particles that transport cholesterol through the blood) is found in the body. In general terms the main types of lipoproteins are LDL (low-density lipoproteins) and HDL (high density lipoproteins). An excess of LDL cholesterol is known as the harmful form, and these may line the artery walls, causing a build-up fatty deposits which could lead to pulmonary complications.

Men generally tend to have higher cholesterol levels compared to women. It should also be understood that high cholesterol itself is not a disease, but can significantly alleviate the chance of developing various cardiovascular illnesses. Changes in lifestyle, such as eating a balanced diet and exercising, can go a long way in preventing and reducing high cholesterol. There are certain prescription medications known as statins that can also help in lowering cholesterol levels in the body.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a complex lipid molecule vital in the construction and growth of the cell membranes in the body and as such is naturally created in the body. As it is not a soluble substance (in water) it needs to be transported by the blood to the necessary organs and cells in the body. It is produced naturally in the liver and is a mixture of steroids and lipids (fats). Together with triglycerides, cholesterol is an important component of cell structure and is necessary for hormonal activities and energy production.

Cholesterol levels in the blood primarily depend on how it is produced in the liver, although the types of food consumed are a large contributory factor. Excess levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) can lead to obstruction and hardening of the arteries, which could result in future cardiac problems. It is not considered to be a nutrient because it can be synthesized by the liver to meet the body’s requirements.

Cholesterol serves as a precursor for:

  • 7-dehydrocholesterol (pro-vitamin D)
  • Adrenocortical hormones and sex hormones like progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone

What is low density lipoproteins (LDL)

The fat in our bloodstream cannot move around on its own and attaches itself to protein compounds forming lipoproteins. Cholesterol, as a part of lipoproteins, moves freely in the bloodstream. Low density lipoproteins indicate that the substance in the lipoprotein is of a heavy nature and is therefore harder to distribute around the body through the blood. For this reason, it is likely that the fatty composition of these lipoproteins may leave residues along the arterial walls as they pass through. Consistently high levels of LDL cholesterol may eventually narrow the arteries to an extent whereby the blood cannot not pass through successfully which in turn can cause a cardiac arrest or even stroke.

What is high density lipoproteins (HDL)

High density lipoproteins on the other hand, are the smallest in size of all the lipoproteins and work in a similar way to low density lipoproteins but are move active particles as they transport ‘fat’ molecules out of the body. Increasing the amount of HDL is said to have a positive effect in reducing the chance of cardiovascular complications.

LDL is responsible for making fatty deposits within the arterial walls, causing the formation of a hard, thick plaque. Over time, this plaque causes the artery walls to thicken and harden. Moreover the artery walls become narrow, so that the blood flow to the vital organs is restricted and sometimes halted altogether. This disease process is better known as atherosclerosis.

The main cause of high cholesterol is the continual consumption of foods rich in saturated-fat. Furthermore, we add to our system by following an unhealthy lifestyle or through our genetic make-up which predisposes our bodies to make more cholesterol than required. High cholesterol can also be a result of diseases like disorders of the liver, kidney, diabetes and an under-active thyroid.

“Good” and “Bad” Cholesterol

“Good” and “Bad” cholesterol are terms often interchanged as they affect the body in different ways. The “good” cholesterol is medically known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL) while LDLs (low-density lipoprotein) are the “bad” cholesterol. It is more beneficial to have high levels of HDL as these take cholesterol back to the liver to be broken down and converted to waste products. High LDL levels, on the other hand, can contribute to heart and circulatory diseases. You can lower your LDL by exercising, eating a low-fat diet and taking prescription treatments to reduce high cholesterol.

Guidelines for total cholesterol are:

  • Less than 200 mg/dL – desirable
  • 200-239 mg/dL – borderline high
  • 240 mg/dL or above – high cholesterol

For LDL, the guidelines are:

  • Below 70 mg/dL – optimal for people at very high risk of heart disease
  • Below 100 mg/dL – optimal for people at risk of heart disease
  • 100-129 mg/dL – near optimal
  • 130-159 mg/dL – borderline high
  • 160-189 mg/dL – high
  • 190 mg/dL and above – very high

For HDL, the guidelines are:

  • Below 40 mg/dL – poor
  • 40-59 mg/dL – better
  • 60 mg/dL and above – best

In the UK, the average total cholesterol level in men should be 5.5mmol/l and in women the acceptable healthy limit is 5.6mmol/l. Apart from cholesterol levels, elements and factors regarding individual cases, diet, exercise regimen, health history, family history, etc should also be taken into consideration.

Causes of high cholesterol

Eating foods containing high amounts of saturated fat will increase your LDL levels. These foods include red meat, cheese, butter, cakes, pastries, biscuits and cream. Those who are obese, overweight or simply have sedentary lifestyles, often have higher LDL levels compared to those with a healthier weight or lifestyle. Excessive alcohol consumption can also increase cholesterol levels, so it is advised to reduce it if looking to reduce your cholesterol levels.

Certain medical conditions may contribute to higher levels of LDL, such as diabetes, hypertension, hypothyroidism, kidney or liver disease. There are also cases that suggest a genetic predisposition can influence someone having higher levels of cholesterol than normal, for example, those suffering from familial hypercholesterolemia, which affects one in 500 people.

How to reduce high cholesterol levels

Lowering high cholesterol in the body is possible through a healthier and more active lifestyle change. By reducing the amount of saturated fats consumed and regularly exercising, these changes can help increase the levels of “good” cholesterol circulating around the body.

You can additionally benefit from the use of statin treatments such as Simvastatin , Crestor or Lipitor, which are clinically proven to help reduce cholesterol levels. These are only prescribed if you have made lifestyle changes as mentioned above, but have noticed little progress.

Can I buy high cholesterol treatments online?

Leaving this condition untreated, can have negative consequences for your long-term vascular health. Seeking the correct medical help is essential to help reduce high cholesterol in particular LDL cholesterol. It is recommended to monitor your cholesterol levels with your doctor regularly. At Meds4All, our clinical service allows you to receive treatments for the condition when you fill out our quick medical consultation. Even if you do not currently have a prescription for this treatment, the information entered is evaluated by one of our registered doctors who ensures that the chosen treatment option is appropriate. A prescription is provided to our UK pharmacy who then dispatch it for same or next day delivery in the UK and around Europe.

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