High cholesterol refers to when there is too much of a fatty substance (cholesterol) in the blood. Although cholesterol is needed to build healthy cells, high levels of the substance can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Often, the condition can be treated successfully with healthy food choices and lifestyle changes, but in some cases, medication may also be necessary.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a natural fatty substance that is produced in the liver and is important for keeping all of the body’s cells healthy. It is also found in some of the foods that we eat. Cholesterol is carried around the body by proteins in the blood, which help keep tissues and organs working properly. The cholesterol combines with the proteins to become lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins – one is good for your health by taking excess cholesterol back to the liver (high-density lipoproteins or HDL), while the other lipoprotein carries the cholesterol around the body, which can cause it to build up in the walls of the arteries (low-density lipoproteins or LDL).
Anyone can develop high cholesterol but factors such as an unhealthy diet, inactivity, smoking, and obesity can increase your risk of developing the condition. Aging, genetics, certain ethnic backgrounds, and certain underlying health conditions can also increase the risk of high cholesterol.
Diagnosis and Treatment for High Cholesterol
High cholesterol does not cause any symptoms. The only way to detect the condition is with a simple blood test to check cholesterol levels, known as a lipid profile, which checks for total cholesterol, levels of HDL and LDL, and triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood).
The main aim of treatment for high cholesterol is to lower cholesterol levels back into a healthy range. The treatment that is right for you will depend on the results of your lipid profile and other factors.
A Healthy Lifestyle
Cholesterol levels can often be lowered successfully with dietary and lifestyle changes, which help reduce the risk of heart disease. These include:
- Getting more exercise– being active helps reduce the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise the level of good cholesterol (HDL).
- Healthy eating –a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, high in fiber, and eating foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oily fish.
- Stop smoking.
- Reduce alcohol intake.
If dietary and lifestyle changes alone do not lower cholesterol levels, your doctor may recommend medication. There are several types of prescription medications available, and the type that is right for you will depend on certain factors, such as your age, health, and personal risk factors. In some cases, a combination of medications is necessary, which may also need to be changed over time. The most common medications include:
- Statins, such as Atorvastatin, Fluvastatin, and Lovastatin, are the most common medications used to reduce cholesterol. They work by reducing the amount of cholesterol the body makes and by protecting the arteries, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Statins are usually taken long-term, even if cholesterol levels are reduced. Most people tolerate statins well, but side effects can occur, such as muscle and joint pain, headaches, and nausea.
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors, such as ezetimibe, work in the small intestine to reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. It can also help the liver work more efficiently in removing LDL cholesterol from the blood. This medication can be used alongside statin medication but may interact with other medications, so always let your doctor know if you are taking any other medications. They are not suitable for some people, like those with liver problems and those who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.
- Bile-acid sequestrants, such as cholestyramine, are used to bind certain components of bile in the digestive tract, which causes the liver to use excess cholesterol to make more bile acids. This reduces the level of cholesterol in the blood. The medication can cause some side effects, such as constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain.
- Bempedoic acid works in a similar way as statins and may be used when statins are not suitable or if ezetimibe is not working well enough alone. They reduce the production of cholesterol solely in the liver and are much less likely to cause side effects such as muscle pain.
- PCSK9 inhibitors, such as alirocumab, help the liver absorb more LDL cholesterol, which lowers the amount of cholesterol in the blood. The medication is injected into the skin every few weeks. It is typically only considered when statins cannot be used or for patients with certain conditions.
Other medications, such as fibrates, niacin, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements, may be recommended if you have high triglycerides.
If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, you should receive regular monitoring by your doctor. They will evaluate and monitor your cholesterol levels, the effectiveness of your medications, and the side effects of medications. To manage your condition successfully, you should always take your medications as prescribed and ensure you attend all your follow-up appointments with your doctor.
High Cholesterol Treatment Near Me in Sarasota and Bradenton, FL
If you are concerned about your cholesterol levels, contact the highly qualified cardiologists at Intercoastal Medical Group for expert care and management of your condition.
At Intercoastal Medical Group, we provide comprehensive healthcare services to ensure you stay in the best health possible. To schedule an appointment or to find out more about our services, visit us at our Beneva Cardiology office in Sarasota, Cattleridge Medical Building II in Sarasota, or Lakewood Ranch II office in Bradenton. Alternatively, you can use our link to schedule an appointment online.