Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that roams around in your blood (and in other parts of your body). While it is essential for making certain hormones and vitamins, the presence of a lot of cholesterol leads to its accumulation in the blood vessels, thus making them narrow and stiff. (1) And this causes a lot of health problems over the long term.
Complications (1, 2)
Angina and heart attack:
If the arteries supplying blood to the heart (coronary arteries) are blocked, the muscles of the heart do not get enough blood to pump normally. This can cause coronary heart disease, which is usually angina (chest pain) or possibly a heart attack. Anginas are an indication of impaired blood flow to the heart; they are also an indicator of an impending heart attack.
When the arteries supplying blood to one or more parts of the brain become narrow or are blocked, this can lead to transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) or even strokes. TIAs are mini strokes; they have stroke-like symptoms, but the damage is not permanent. However, they should be taken as a warning sign.
Peripheral artery disease:
‘Peripheral artery disease’ indicates complications of blood vessels narrowing outside the heart and the brain. One common location is the hands and the feet.
If many arteries are narrow and stiff, the heart has to pump extra hard to ensure that the blood goes through them and reaches the organs. This increases blood pressure in general, thereby causing hypertension.
Prevention (1, 2)
- Stop smoking. It’s one of the most important factors that affect the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Eat healthy and exercise regularly. Eating healthy, keeping a check on your weight, and exercising regularly, i.e., doing aerobic exercises, are crucial for good cardiovascular health.
- Manage stress better. While you cannot make your problems go away, you can learn to deal with them a lot better using yoga and meditation. They will also reduce your physical health problems.
Statins are the mainstay of dyslipidemia therapy. There are other drugs for people who are intolerant to statins.
Check out our article “Dyslipidemia Treatment – Everything You Need to Know” for more details on how to deal with high cholesterol and how to prevent its sequelae.
If you are a smoker and/or have diabetes or any cardiovascular disease, or if you have a family member who has it, you should get your cholesterol, i.e., lipid profile, checked every year. (2)
Typically, 10-12 hours of fasting is required for accurate testing, but current guidelines state that non-fasting testing is also acceptable as the variation is not that high. Thus, there is really no excuse for delaying your lipid profile test. In addition to lipids, you should also get your glucose tested. (2)
- Lawes CM, Vander Hoorn ST, Law MR, Rodgers A. High cholesterol. Comparative Quantification of Health Risks, Global and Regional Burden of Disease Attributable to Selected Major Risk Factors. Geneva: the World Health Organization. 2004:391-496.
- Anderson TJ, Gregoire J, Pearson GJ, Barry AR, Couture P, Dawes M, et al. 2016 Canadian Cardiovascular Society guidelines for the management of dyslipidemia for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in the adult. Canadian Journal of Cardiology. 2016 Nov 1;32(11):1263-82.