Hypercholesterolemia

Hypercholesterolemia, or high cholesterol, occurs when there is too much cholesterol in the body. Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, fat-like substance that is a natural component of all the cells in the body. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Added cholesterol, which comes from the foods you eat, may cause harm.

High cholesterol raises your risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. When there is too much cholesterol circulating in the blood, it can create sticky deposits (called plaque) along the artery walls. Plaque can eventually narrow or block the flow of blood to the brain, heart, and other organs. Blood cells that get caught on the plaque form clots, which can break loose and completely block blood flow through an artery, causing heart attack or stroke.

The normal range for total blood cholesterol is between 140 to 200 mg per decilitre (mg/dL) of blood (usually just expressed as a number). However, the total number doesn't tell the whole story: There are two types of cholesterol, HDL (high density lipoproteins, or "good" cholesterol) and LDL (low density lipoproteins, or "bad" cholesterol). The amount of HDL relative to LDL is considered a more important indicator of heart disease risk. There is a third kind of fatty material called triglycerides found in the blood. They also play a role (generally as triglyceride levels rise, "good" HDL cholesterol falls). In fact, there is a subset of physicians who believe that trigylcerides are the only fats in the body that increase heart disease risk. When you have high cholesterol, it usually means you have high levels of LDL cholesterol, normal or low levels of HDL cholesterol, and normal or high levels of triglycerides.

While heredity may be a factor for some people, the main culprits are lack of exercise and diets high in saturated fat. High cholesterol can be prevented, sometimes with lifestyle changes (diet and exercise) alone. If these do not work, your doctor may recommend medications to lower your cholesterol levels.

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Review Date: 3/27/2015  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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