The risk of cholesterol causing heart disease primarily depends on the amount of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) in your bloodstream. LDL cholesterol is called “bad” cholesterol because it’s the type that causes coronary artery disease. HDL, also known as high-density lipoprotein, is known as the “good” cholesterol, because it takes cholesterol out of the bloodstream, carrying it back to the liver for disposal.
When you have too much LDL cholesterol in your blood, it sticks to blood vessel walls. Over time, cholesterol continues to build up and accumulates other substances, such as calcium, until it develops into a plaque that hardens the vessel wall and narrows the artery.
There are two health dangers caused by cholesterol plaques. First, they block blood flow, which deprives the heart of oxygen and leads to angina (chest pain), heart disease, or a heart attack. The second risk to your health occurs if a piece of the plaque breaks away, which can completely block blood flow, causing a stroke or heart attack.
A family history of high cholesterol increases your risk of developing the problem. Otherwise, lifestyle factors like diet, physical activity, obesity, and smoking have a significant influence on your overall levels of LDL cholesterol.
Diabetes also increases the chance of high blood cholesterol. In fact, it’s a triple threat: High blood sugar raises LDL cholesterol, lowers HDL cholesterol, and damages the lining of your arteries.
It’s bad enough that high cholesterol causes heart disease, but what’s worse is that you won’t see it coming, because high cholesterol doesn’t cause any symptoms. It can be building in your blood vessels for years, and you won’t have symptoms until the blockage gets large enough to cause other problems, such as chest pain from lack of oxygenated blood reaching the heart.
When treating high cholesterol, the goal is to lower LDL cholesterol. This is accomplished by following therapeutic lifestyle changes -- a cholesterol-lowering diet, physical activity, and weight management -- and taking cholesterol-lowering medications if lifestyle changes don’t lower your LDL.
Your doctor at Consultants in Cardiology & Electrophysiology will work with you to determine the best course of action based on your LDL levels. Some of the medications that may be considered include statins, bile acid sequestrants, and cholesterol absorption inhibitors.