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High cholesterol

What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft fat-like, waxy substance found in the blood and in all cells. It is normal to have cholesterol; it is used for cell repair, production of hormones and body functions. Most of the body’s cholesterol (75%) is produced in the body; however, the remaining 25% comes from an individual’s diet. Too much cholesterol in the blood, however, can contribute to a plaque build-up in the arteries, leading to coronary artery disease, heart attacks and strokes.

There are three different types of cholesterol, each contributing independently to the risk of coronary artery disease.

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol) deposits in arteries and makes them more rigid or may lead to the development of plaque build up in the arteries, which causes coronary artery disease. High LDL levels leads to an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol) transports cholesterol from arteries back to the liver. Higher HDL levels protects against risk of coronary heart disease. Women have high HDL in premenopausal years due to estrogen. Smoking decreases HDL.
  • Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists. Triglycerides in the bloodstream are derived from fats eaten in foods or made in the body from other energy sources like carbohydrates. Increases in triglycerides are seen in patients who are overweight or inactive, who smoke or drink heavy amounts of alcohol, and/or who have diets high in carbohydrates. Women, in general, have higher triglycerides levels.
What are the risk factors for high cholesterol?
Diets high in cholesterol, saturated fats and trans fatty acids, obesity, lack of activity, family history, and age all put you at risk for high cholesterol. Premenopausal women have lower levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and higher levels of HDL (good cholesterol), but one year after menopause, the protective effect of estrogen is lost and a woman can have higher cholesterol levels, with lower HDL and higher LDL.

What are warning signs?
There are no warning signs for high cholesterol.

How is high cholesterol diagnosed and treated?
The American Heart Association recommends that everyone over the age of 20 should get a fasting lipid profile blood test every five years. Dietary modification, aerobic exercise and quitting smoking can reduce cholesterol levels, as can cholesterol-lowering medications.

To make an appointment with a Women’s Heart NY physician, please call
(877) WOMEN-00/(877) 966-3600.

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