What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is fundamental to ensuring the normal functions of the body. This lipid substance is mainly made by the liver but can also be found in some foods. Although high cholesterol does not cause an symptoms, it can increase you risk of serious health conditions.

What do you need to know?
Cholesterol is transported in your body by proteins and when they join together they become lipoproteins. There are two different types of lipoproteins know as LDL and HDL , or know as 'good' and 'bad' cholesterol. But what do these mean?

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL): is know as 'bad' cholesterol. It works by transporting cholesterol from the liver to the cells in need of it. Sometimes there is too much cholesterol for the cells to use which causes a thickening in the artery walls which can cause more strain on the heart and increase risks of arterial disease.

High-density lipoproteins (HDL): carry cholesterol away from cells and back to the liver. It is then broken down or is passed from the body as a waste product. HDL is therefore known as 'good' cholesterol and having higher ratio of this is more beneficial and can lower your risks of future health problems.

Why should you lower your cholesterol?

It is strongly believed that having high cholesterol can increase your risk of:
- narrowing arteries
- heart attack
- stroke
- mini- stroke

Cholesterol as previously mentioned causes thickening in the artery wall. This then restricts the blood flow to you heart, brain and the rest of your body- increasing the chances of a blood clot occurring somewhere. As your blood cholesterol level increases, your risk of coronary heart disease also rises. This can then causes pain in the front of the chest of arms during times of stress and physical activity.

What are causes of high cholesterol?
There are various things that can increase the your chances of having heart problems or a possible stroke if you do have high cholesterol such as:

- having diabetes or high blood pressure (hypertension)
- having a family history with heart disease or stroke
- smoking: cigarettes contain a chemical called acrolein which stops the body from carrying fatty deposits to the liver, this leads to the increasing thickening of the artery walls
-having an unhealthy diet

Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (FH) is also an inherited condition and this can cause high cholesterol in some people that have a very healthy diet.

How often should I test my cholesterol levels?
Your GP will recommend that you have your cholesterol checked if you : have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease, stroke or mini-stroke (TIA) or peripheral arterial disease (PAD), have high blood pressure, diabetes or a health condition that can increase cholesterol levels, are overweight, have a close family member who has a cholesterol-related condition, have a family history of early cardiovascular disease.

What can you do to lower your cholesterol?
The first stage to reducing your cholesterol is to maintain a balanced and healthy diet. A diet low in fatty foods is key. You can swap foods high with saturated fats for a piece of fruit or vegetables and wholegrain cereals, just making these small changes will also prevent your chance of high cholesterol coming back.

Other lifestyle changes can also help to lower your levels of cholesterol, for example:
- stopping smoking
- increasing your amount of exercise and continuing regularly

However if these changes do not seem to help do not worry. Your GP may prescribe you cholesterol lowering medicines called 'statins'. These are medicines that are designed to help lower the amount of LDL in your blood and reduce the level of LDL production inside the liver.

Facts and figures

Age: Men 45 years old or above and women 55 years old or above are at increased risk of high cholesterol.
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