The Link Between Cholesterol And Heart Attack Risk
While high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart attack, theres plenty you can do to lower it.
Cholesterol gets a bad rap, but the truth is, we need it to function well. Cholesterol is an important building block for the cells of our body, says Bruce Andrus, MD, a member of the American College of Cardiologys Prevention Council and codirector of the Lipid Clinic at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
Myth: I Cant Do Anything To Change My Cholesterol Levels
Fact: You can do many things to improve your cholesterol levels and keep them in a healthy range!
- Get tested at least every 5 years .1,2 Learn more about cholesterol screenings.
- Make healthy food choices. Limit foods high in saturated fats. Choose foods naturally high in fiber and unsaturated fats. Learn more about healthy diets and nutrition at CDCs nutrition, physical activity, and obesity website.
- Be active every day. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Learn more about physical activity basics and tips.
- Dont smoke or use tobacco products. Smoking damages your blood vessels, speeds up the hardening of the arteries, and greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you dont smoke, dont start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Learn more about tobacco use and ways to quit at CDCs smoking and tobacco use website.
- Talk with your health care provider about ways to manage your cholesterol if any medicines are given to you to manage your cholesterol, take them as they are prescribed. Learn more about medicines to lower cholesterol.
- Know your family history. If your parents or other immediate family members have high cholesterol, you probably should be tested more often. You could have a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia .
How Does Cholesterol Affect Your Heart
When you have too much bad cholesterol in your body, it can start to pose a problem. It contributes to fatty deposits in the arteries called plaque, which can cause heart disease.
When that plaque builds up, it makes it harder for blood to flow, and these deposits can eventually break and form a clot that leads to a heart attack, explains Dr. Andrus.
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How Can I Lower My Cholesterol
If the lifestyle changes alone do not lower your cholesterol enough, you may also need to take medicines. There are several types of cholesterol-lowering drugs available, including statins. If you take medicines to lower your cholesterol, you still should continue with the lifestyle changes.
Some people with familial hypercholesterolemia may receive a treatment called lipoprotein apheresis. This treatment uses a filtering machine to remove LDL cholesterol from the blood. Then the machine returns the rest of the blood back to the person.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
What Are The Symptoms Of High Cholesterol
High cholesterol itself does not cause any symptoms, so many people are unaware that their cholesterol levels are too high. Therefore, it is important to find out what your cholesterol numbers are. Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of a heart attack or dying of heart disease, even if you already have it.
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Diabetes And Cardiovascular Disease Risk
People with diabetes are at greater risk of heart attack, angina and stroke. Similarly, people with CVD are generally prone to diabetes. For people with both diseases, the risk of heart attack and stroke is higher than for those without them.
The reported increase in diabetes in Australia is thought to be associated with more people being physically inactive, unhealthy eating habits and being overweight. The two main types of diabetes are:
- Type 1â previously known as insulin-dependent or juvenile-onset diabetes.
- Type 2â previously known as non-insulin-dependent or mature-onset diabetes.
If you have diabetes, manage your condition by being physically active, choosing healthy foods and maintaining a healthy weight. You may also need to take medicines to maintain normal blood-glucose levels, as well as making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking. Manage your health by reducing total cholesterol, monitoring blood pressure and regularly seeing your doctor for diabetes reviews.
How Does High Cholesterol Contribute To Heart Disease In Women
Having a high level of cholesterol is known as hypercholesterolemia, or dyslipidemia.
People who have an LDL cholesterol level thats higher than normal and an HDL cholesterol level thats too low may be at a higher risk of heart disease.
If you have too much LDL cholesterol in your blood, it can accumulate inside the walls of blood vessels.
HDL cholesterol helps remove cholesterol from your bloodstream. But if HDL levels are too low, there wont be enough of it to help remove the buildup of LDL cholesterol from your blood vessels.
Over time, the buildup of LDL within your blood vessels can turn into a substance known as plaque. Plaque can narrow and harden your arteries and limit blood flow. This is called atherosclerosis and is considered one type of heart disease.
In general, higher cholesterol levels particularly LDL levels means you have a higher chance of having a heart attack or stroke during the course of your lifetime.
Women generally have higher levels of HDL cholesterol than men, due to a female sex hormone known as estrogen.
According to the National Institutes of Health , research also suggests that cholesterol levels in women vary depending on the phase of the menstrual cycle, due to changes in estrogen levels.
As estrogen levels rise, HDL cholesterol also rises, peaking at the time of ovulation. On the other hand, LDL and total cholesterol levels decline as estrogen levels rise, reaching a low just before menstruation.
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Walking For Heart Health
Try walking to stay active. The Heart Foundation has community walking groups all over Australia you can join. Walking for an average of 30 minutes or more a day can:
- Lower our risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes .
- Manage weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Reduce our risk of some cancers.
- Maintain bone density â reducing risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
- Improve balance and coordination â reducing your risk of falls and other injuries.
Gender Age And Cardiovascular Disease Risk
Generally, men have a higher risk than women of developing CVD in middle age. The risk rises as they get older.
However, the risk of developing CVD is an important issue for women, especially as they get older. It is not clear why women tend to get CVD at a later age than men, although it is likely that hormonal changes after menopause, combined with changes in their risk factors, play a role.
Despite your gender and age, you can reduce your risk of developing CVD if you follow a healthy lifestyle and take medicines as prescribed by your doctor.
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How Are High Cholesterol And Heart Disease Related
Having high cholesterol raises your risk of atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in your arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to your body. Plaque is made of cholesterol and other substances. Over time, plaque can narrow or completely block the arteries including the ones that serve your heart.
We tend to think of the heart pumping blood to the rest of the body. But the heart itself also needs a healthy blood supply. The coronary arteries are a network of arteries that nourish the heart with blood. Coronary artery disease occurs when atherosclerosis causes these arteries to be narrowed or blocked.
Early on, coronary artery disease may not cause symptoms. But over time it can lead to:
Chest pain or trouble breathing when youre physically active or even when youre not active.
Heart attack, or myocardial infarction, which is when one or more of the coronary arteries is suddenly blocked, leading to death of the heart muscle.
Heart failure, which is when your heart doesnt pump blood normally or pump enough to meet your bodys needs.
Irregular heart rhythm, which can cause a fluttering sensation in your chest, shortness of breath, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
What Health Problems Can High Cholesterol Cause
If you have large deposits of plaque in your arteries, an area of plaque can rupture . This can cause a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque. If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block blood flow in a coronary artery.
Plaque also can build up in other arteries in your body, including the arteries that bring oxygen-rich blood to your brain and limbs. This can lead to problems such as carotid artery disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease.
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How Is High Cholesterol Diagnosed
You cant tell if you have high cholesterol without having it checked. A simple blood test will reveal your cholesterol level.
Men 35 years of age and older and women 45 years of age and older should have their cholesterol checked. Men and women 20 years of age and older who have risk factors for heart disease should have their cholesterol checked. Teens may need to be checked if they are taking certain medicines or have a strong family history of high cholesterol. Ask your doctor how often you should have your cholesterol checked.
Risk factors for heart disease include:
- Cigarette smoking.
- Having an immediate family member who has had heart disease.
- Being overweight or obese.
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Prime Contributors To Cardiovascular Disease
First of all, cardiovascular illness results when key bodily functions go awry, causing inflammation , imbalances in blood sugar and insulin, and oxidative stress.
To control these key biological functions and keep them in balance, you need to look at your overall health as well as your genetic predispositions, as these underlie the types of diseases you’re most likely to develop. It is the interaction of your genes, lifestyle, and environment that ultimately determines your risks — and the outcome of your life.
This is the science of nutrigenomics, or how food acts as information to stall or totally prevent some predisposed disease risks by turning on the right gene messages with our diet and lifestyle choices. That means some of the factors that unbalance bodily health are under your control or could be.
These include diet, nutritional status, stress levels, and activity levels. Key tests can reveal problems with a person’s blood sugar and insulin, inflammation level, level of folic acid, clotting factors, hormones, and other bodily systems that affect your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Particularly important are the causes of inflammation, which are many, and need to be assessed. Inflammation can arise from poor diet , a sedentary lifestyle, stress, autoimmune disease, food allergies, hidden infections such as gum disease, and even toxins such as mercury. All of these causal factors need to be considered anytime there is inflammation.
What Can Cause High Cholesterol Besides Diet: 6 Things
Do you have high cholesterol but maintain a well-balanced diet? You arent alone.
It can be frustrating to feel like youre doing everything right and still have trouble maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
At iwi, we know you prioritize your health and wellness. Weve compiled this guide detailing what you need to know about high cholesterol, including the possible causes of high cholesterol, risk factors, and complications.
The Fourth Nail In The Cholesterol Theory Coffin
Those of you who are old enough may remember that for years there was no distinction between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. All you were told is that you had to eat fake margarine to keep your cholesterol levels down. It was only some time later that researchers discovered that HDL was actually heart protective whereas it was only the LDL that needed to be reduced. From that point on, it was all about maintaining healthy cholesterol ratios between your HDL and LDL. The new guidelines havent changed that assessment theyve only changed what they say makes those LDL levels climb. But there focus on LDL is wrong. As it turns out, focusing on LDL cholesterol as the cause of heart problems is little better than focusing on simple overall cholesterol levels. As it turns out, things are more complex than HDL VS LDL.
So why dont doctors tell you what forms of LDL you have circulating in your blood? Considering that your own personal mix may well determine whether you have the cardiovascular system of an ox or are headed for an imminent heart attack, that would seem to be important. Quite simply: doctors dont tell you because typical LDL tests cant distinguish between large and small LDL particles they cant spot the difference. In other words, since you doctor is ignorant, you remain ignorant.
What Causes High Cholesterol
Different things that can cause high cholesterol. Some of these causes you can change and some of them you can’t.
Risk factors you can change:
- Too much food high in saturated fats, like red meat, butter, cream, and other dairy products
- Too many foods with refined sugars, such as sweets, baked goods, white bread and fizzy drinks
- Too much alcohol
- Not being active enough each day
- Having too much body fat, especially around the middle
The good news is there’s lots of ways to manage these risks. Read about lowering your cholesterol.
Risk factors you can’t change:
- Family history
- Biological sex
- Other medical conditions such as kidney or liver disease, or hypothyroidism.
Some high cholesterol conditions that are passed down through families, including:
- familial hyperlipidaemia
- familial hypercholesterolaemia
- familial hypertriglyceridaemia .
If you have one of these conditions, you may not be able to reduce your levels using lifestyle changes alone. You may need to go on medication as well.
If you have a parent or sibling with one of these conditions, talk to your doctor about getting your cholesterol checked. These conditions usually start at a younger age and can affect people in their teens or twenties.
What Raises Your Risk Of Heart Disease
Your risk of coronary heart disease goes up based on the number of risk factors you have and how serious they are. Some risk factors such as high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol can be changed through heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Other risk factors, such as your sex, older age, family history, and race and ethnicity, cannot be changed.
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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of High Cholesterol
High cholesterol generally doesnt have obvious symptoms, but it can increase the risk of serious health conditions if left untreated. Thats why its important to get a blood test and regular check-ups. If you are 45 or older , see your doctor for a cholesterol test as part of a Heart Health Check. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, speak to your GP about your heart disease risk.
So Then What Causes Heart Disease
Heart disease is the biggest killer in the Western world .
Its no wonder that prevention is a hotly debated topic, particularly cholesterol and saturated fats.
But lets take a step back and look at what we do know about heart disease. For sure.
Stiffness and formation of plaque in the arteries, known as Atherosclorosis, is in essence what drives heart disease.
Just like wrinkled skin or stiff joints, it happens over time, with age, so there is no preventing it.
Im not saying you will have a heart attack from blocked arteries, but arterial damage does occur in old age. Thats life.
Fortunately, we can determine if our atherosclerosis will be minor or severe. This is achieved by the way we live our lives.
To simplify, it really comes down to lifestyle and diet.
Does cholesterol still matter?
What we do know is higher levels of LDL cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of heart disease .
Likewise, cholesterol-lowering therapy has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
We also know that higher levels of HDL cholesterol appear to protect heart health to some degree .
Maybe the LDL particle is the cause of damage. Maybe the HDL particle is there to protect against damage. From the current evidence available, we just dont know for sure.
Therefore, overall we know that reducing LDL cholesterol is most beneficial.
Consider this analogy:
Even with your seat belt on as a precaution , your chances of survival are greatly improved if you drive at a slower speed .
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How Is Cholesterol Moved Around The Body
Cholesterol is a fatty substance which cannot dissolve in blood , so it is carried around by proteins. These fat and protein complexes are called lipoproteins.
There are two main types:
LDL is the bad cholesterol increases the risk of cardiovascular disease LDL transports cholesterol to the cells. The bodys cells take up the LDL cholesterol via an LDL receptor . This controls the amount of cholesterol in the blood. The protein component of LDL is called apolipoprotein B .
HDL is the good cholesterol helps to protect against cardiovascular disease HDL transports cholesterol from the cells to the liver for removal. HDL can also act as an antioxidant. The major protein component of HDL is called apolipoprotein A1 .