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High cholesterol build up

High Cholesterol or Hypercholesterolemia

By Virtue Medical Group / Created on: October 13, 2021

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the blood. It is present in each body cell and has an essential function of producing hormones, helps in digesting foods, and generating vitamin D. The human body naturally produces it; however, it can also be consumed through food.

It circulates the body in the lipoproteins i.e., the combination of proteins and cholesterol. The following two types of lipoproteins carry the cholesterol

  • High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL) – Cholesterol that is found in HDL is regarded as good cholesterol.
  • Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) – Cholesterol found in the LDL is uneahtlhy or bad cholesterol.

The human body requires cholesterol to create healthy cells, but its high levels are linked to an increased risk of cardiac disorders.

Ranges of Cholesterol in Blood

In adults, here are the total cholesterol levels

  • Lower than 200 mg/dL is considered healthy
  • Levels between 200 to 239 mg/dL are considered borderline high
  • The reading of 240 mg/dL and higher is considered high.

LDL Cholesterol must be lower than 100 mg/dL

  • 100 to 129 mg/dL is an acceptable limit for healthy people, however, it can be concerning for people with heart disease risk factors.
  • 130 to 159 mg/dL is considered borderline high.
  • 160 to 189 mg/dL is considered high.
  • 190 mg/dl or above is very high.

HDL cholesterol must be kept in a higher range. The optimal range for HDL is 60 mg/dl or higher.

  • HDL from 41 mg/dl to 59 mg/dL is considered borderline low
  • HDL less than 40 mg/dL can be a major risk factor for cardiac disease.

Symptoms of High Cholesterol

Usually, a person with high cholesterol levels does not show any detectable signs or symptoms. High cholesterol can only be detected through routine screening and blood tests.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a person should get their first cholesterol screening when they are between the age of 9 and 11, and thereafter get the screening after every 5 years. It is recommended to have cholesterol screenings every one or two years for men aged between 45-65 years and women aged between 55-65 years. People above 65 years of age should get cholesterol tests done on an annual basis.

If the test results are out of the desirable range of cholesterol, your family doctor may recommend more frequent monitoring. Your family doctor may suggest frequent blood tests if there is a family history of high-level of blood cholesterol, or risk factors like diabetes, or heart problems.

Causes of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol can be caused by various factors. The primary causes include obesity, inactivity, and an unhealthy diet. The sedentary lifestyle contributes to high levels of cholesterol and triglyceride.

The genetic makeup may also play a role in high cholesterol levels. Additionally, medical conditions, like chronic kidney diseases, HIV/AIDS, Lupus, hypothyroidism, diabetes, can also contribute to high levels of cholesterol.

Cholesterol levels can also be triggered by certain medications used for other health concerns, like cancer, acne, high blood pressure, HIV/AIDS, organ transplants, and irregular heart rate.

Dangers of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol increases the risk of developing fatty deposits in the blood vessels. Over time, these fatty deposits grow, making it difficult for sufficient blood to flow through arteries. Sometimes the fatty deposits break resulting in blood clots leading to a stroke or a heart attack.

Risk Factors of Unhealthy Cholesterol Levels

Factors contributing to the risk of high cholesterol levels include the following:

  • Obesity – A high body mass (BMI) of 30 or higher increases your chances of high cholesterol.
  • Unhealthy Diet – Eating too much saturated or trans fats can cause high cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are present in fatty cuts of meat and dairy products. Trans fats are also a basic ingredient in packaged snacks or desserts.
  • Lack of Physical Exercise – Lack of exercise increases the level of LDL in the blood.
  • Unhealthy lifestyle – Smoking and excessive drinking can increase the LDL in the blood.
  • Age – Although high cholesterol can occur in young children, however, it is more common in people above 40. This is because, as you age the liver becomes less capable of removing the LDL cholesterol.

Preventing High Cholesterol

The cholesterol levels can be reduced and maintained at a desirable level by making four major lifestyle changes:

  1. Eating a balanced healthy diet with a low salt level, and excessive fruits, whole grains, and vegetables.
  2. An active lifestyle with a 30-minutes exercise duration
  3. Avoid smoking and drinking
  4. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

A study carried out in Harvard Health has identified cholesterol-lowering foods that can decrease cholesterol levels. The foods include the following:

  • Barley and whole grains
  • Eggplant and okra
  • Vegetable oil
  • Nuts
  • Fruits (apples, strawberries, grapes, and citrus)
  • Fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna)
  • Soy and soy-based foods.
  • Fiber enriched foods.

The same study enlisted the foods that are bad for cholesterol levels includes:

  • Full-fat dairy
  • Red meat
  • Margarine
  • Hydrogenated oils

Treatment of High Cholesterol

High Cholesterol can be treated in Lipid-Lowering Therapy. Drug treatment for patients with high cholesterol levels depends on the range of their cholesterol and other risk factors. Recommendations primarily start with exercise and diet, but people with a high risk of a cardiac attack would require statins or other medications.

Statins are the major group of cholesterol-lowering drugs. The statin on the prescription in the US includes simvastatin, pravastatin, lovastatin, atorvastatin, and rosuvastatin.

Apart from statins, a doctor may prescribe resins, niacin, fibrates, and selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors.


Cholesterol is an oil-based substance found in the blood that is produced naturally in the human body, but it can also be consumed through food. High cholesterol levels can pose various health concerns and can even be detrimental. It is recommended by doctors to have regular screening and blood tests to maintain and control cholesterol levels. In case you notice your cholesterol, levels are beyond the normal limit, consult with your family doctor to get it examined. If you are looking for a family doctor that provides exams, contact Virtue Medical Group today.

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