High Cholesterol (Hypercholesterolemia)

Cholesterol is a type of fat (lipid) that is produced by the liver. Our bodies need cholesterol in order to complete many important functions such as building the structure of cell walls and in the production of hormones, vitamin D and bile to aid digestion. Our livers alone are able to produce all the cholesterol that our bodies require without further supplementation from food such as meat, eggs or other animal products.

Too much cholesterol in the blood can be a major problem as it causes fatty deposits or plaques to stick to the internal walls of your blood vessels. This process is called atherosclerosis and is the underlying cause of coronary heart disease (CHD).

Over time, the gradual build-up of these fatty deposits or plaques causes a clog in the arteries making it difficult for blood to flow freely through the heart and body which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Causes of High Cholesterol

Hypercholesterolemia or High Cholesterol occurs when there is an elevated or high cholesterol level circulating in your blood. There are no specific causes however there are a number of contributing risk factors that have been identified and include:

  • Family history of high cholesterol
  • Age
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Diet high in saturated fat

Symptoms of High Cholesterol

Often people with high cholesterol will not experience any symptoms and feel generally well. The only way to monitor your cholesterol is through regular cholesterol checks via a blood test.

The following factors combined with high cholesterol increase the risks of serious problems associated with high cholesterol:

Treatment of Cholesterol

A simple blood test is used to measure your cholesterol levels. As well as a total cholesterol level your blood test results will give a breakdown of the two main types of cholesterol, which are:

1. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol also known as the “bad” cholesterol.
The role of LDL cholesterol is to transport and deliver most of the cholesterol to the body’s cells. It is high levels of LDL cholesterol that can cause a clog in your arteries.

2. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol also known as the “good” cholesterol.
he role of HDL cholesterol is to help remove excess cholesterol out of the cells, including cells in the arteries.

Current Australian guidelines recommend aiming for a low LDL cholesterol level and higher HDL cholesterol level. Total blood cholesterol levels above 5.5 mmol/L are an indication of a greatly increased risk of developing coronary heart disease. Levels above 6.5 mmol/L are considered to indicate extremely high risk.^

The first step in the treatment of high cholesterol would be to improve any areas in your lifestyle that could be considered a contributing risk factor. To reduce your coronary heart disease (CHD) risk, aim for a LDL cholesterol level less than 1.8 mmol/L and a HDL cholesterol level of greater than 1.0 mmol/L*.

You can improve your lifestyle and achieve healthy cholesterol by:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet that is low in saturated fat, avoid foods such as processed meats and deep-fried foods that are high in saturated fat
  • Consuming lean meat and poultry that has had all excess fat trimmed off
  • Having 2 to 3 serves of oily fish each week - tuna, salmon, sardines, and blue mackerel are examples of types of oily fish.
  • Increasing your fibre intake by eating a variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes and wholegrain bread, pasta and cereal. If necessary fibre supplements containing Psyllium Husk can also be used. Studies indicate that increasing your fibre can reduce your cholesterol levels
  • Replacing full fat dairy products for reduced, low or no fat dairy foods
  • Replacing butter with margarine
  • Using canola, sunflower, sesame or peanut oils when cooking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight with regular moderately intense physical activity
  • Limiting alcohol consumption to no more than 1 to 2 standard drinks per day
  • Quitting smoking

If these changes alone are not enough to reduce your high cholesterol levels then there are a range of prescription medications that your doctor may prescribe for you to use in combination with the above healthy lifestyle measures to reduce your cholesterol levels and overall risk of coronary heart disease.

Next Steps

Please visit your local Pharmacy 777 Pharmacist to discuss any high cholesterol concerns or questions you may have.

We can provide cholesterol checks and advice on improving lifestyle factors that could be of benefit to you.

If our Pharmacists feel it is necessary, you will be referred to a GP and on request the Pharmacist can write a referral outlining the treatment used to date and the concerns that need to be investigated.

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