Hyperlipidemia / High Cholesterol
Hyperlipidemia, or high cholesterol, is a condition that affects millions of Americans and represents a significant risk factor for future cardiovascular disease. Almost half the US population has elevated cholesterol. It is a disease that affects the western world disproportionately, but countries around the world are starting to see an increase in prevalence as well. Hyperlipidemia can be caused by genetic factors, but most often, the issue is environmental. For example, with the dramatic increase in excess weight and obesity in the United States, more and younger patients are suffering from persistently high cholesterol. In the end, early diagnosis and treatment through lifestyle change and, if unsuccessful, medication can help prevent significant cardiovascular disease later in life.
Many patients are screened for their cholesterol levels at each physical/check-up. Some may have risk factors that require earlier screening. These risk factors can include family history of heart disease, excess weight or poor dietary habits. Cholesterol is measured with a very simple blood test showing 3 basic numbers – high density lipoprotein or HDL (good cholesterol), low density protein or LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. The total cholesterol number is normal around 150 to 200 mg/dL. As total cholesterol increases above 200, the risk for significant heart disease increases as well.
So What Exactly is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol represents the amount of fat circulating in the bloodstream. The leading cause of non-familial high cholesterol is excess weight, including saturated fat intake. While a significant push was made years ago to eliminate trans fats – one of the worst offending foods – saturated fat can still increase the risk of heart disease by increasing cholesterol levels. It is worth noting that cholesterol in certain foods, like shellfish, is not what we would consider to be traditionally bad cholesterol. In fact, shellfish offers excellent nutrition despite its high cholesterol value.
How We Manage High Cholesterol
In the case of a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol, you will speak to your cardiologist about possible treatment options. You may find that your cholesterol remains stubbornly high despite trying to address it through improved diet and exercise habits. To some degree when taking the impact of genetics into account, you are not in control of your cholesterol number. For those that have acquired high cholesterol due to excess weight or a sedentary lifestyle, the first course of action is to improve your diet and exercise regimen. You may also learn more about the pesco-Mediterranean diet with intermittent fasting that is a favorite of Dr. Robine when speaking to patients about improving their overall lifestyle.
If diet and lifestyle changes do not appreciably improve the cholesterol picture, certain drugs, known as statins, can be used to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of long-term cardiovascular damage. It is important that you speak to your qualified cardiologist to understand more about the pros and cons of medical therapy for cholesterol.
For those that have not addressed their cholesterol issues, there is a significantly higher likelihood of atherosclerosis which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, peripheral arterial disease, heart attack, and stroke. In some cases, where the artery is partially blocked, patients may require stenting alongside an angioplasty. In the most severe cases, patients will require a CABG or bypass surgery to circumvent the blockage in the artery.
The Bottom Line: Prevention Is Key
High cholesterol is one of the most manageable and easily diagnosed precursors to cardiovascular trouble. However, it is something that few of us take seriously. The goal is to prevent future cardiovascular disorders by addressing the greatest risk factors today. Be sure to speak to your primary care physician and your cardiologist here at Nevada Cardiology to learn more about getting your cholesterol under control and set a foundation for better heart health in the future.