Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is present in your blood. High cholesterol, also known as hypercholesterolemia, occurs when there are raised levels in your body. Fatty substances build up in your blood mainly as a result of diet and lifestyle choices. Eating unhealthy fatty foods and not exercising enough puts you at risk of developing high cholesterol. If you smoke or drink alcohol or are overweight, your risk increases further. Too much cholesterol can cause a blockage in the blood vessels. There is a link between the increasing blockage of blood vessels and a higher risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. If someone in your family has high cholesterol then you are also more likely to suffer from it. There are no symptoms of high cholesterol, the only way to confirm this is with a blood test.
If you are overweight, have a poor diet, or are over 40 years old and have never had the test, it is recommended to check your cholesterol levels. If anyone in your family has suffered from high cholesterol or heart problems it is also recommended to get testing.
The doctor will likely take your cholesterol blood test alongside a few other routine blood tests too. Your doctor may take your blood pressure, calculate your BMI score and take into account your demographics, this will allow them to calculate your risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years (Qrisk score). Your doctor will use a QRisk score to calculate your risk of developing heart disease in the next 10 years. If your cholesterol level is raised, your Qrisk is above 10% or you are not improving your levels with lifestyle changes alone, then your doctor may recommend a cholesterol-lowering medication. Statins are common medications, that work by reducing the amount of cholesterol in your body. These medications are often well tolerated but in some, they can cause muscular aches and pains and affect your liver. Your doctor will guide you on how to start this medication appropriately.
There are usually 4 different measures for the cholesterol level. Total cholesterol is the overall amount of cholesterol in your blood. This should be 5 or below. HDL (good cholesterol)- this reduces your risk of a heart attack or stroke. This should be 1 or above. LDL (bad cholesterol)- this increases your risk of heart problems or stroke and should be 3 or below. Triglycerides are similar to bad cholesterol and should be 2.3 or below. Optimising your cholesterol blood results reduces your risk of developing heart attacks or stroke.
If your cholesterol level is raised, the first and most important step is to address your diet. It is important to reduce the amount of microwaveable, junk, processed, and takeaway foods that you consume. It is important to increase your good fats and nutrient-dense healthy foods; for example nuts and seeds, fruit and vegetables, and oily fish like mackerel. It is advised to switch your dietary intake of pasta, rice and bread to wholemeal varieties. It is also advised to exercise regularly; 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense activity a week. If you smoke or drink alcohol. It is advised to stop smoking and drink less than 14 units of alcohol a week to reduce your risk of suffering from the disease.