Cholesterol Symptoms

  • Symptoms

    You may have elevated cholesterol without having any symptoms. A person with high cholesterol levels may not experience any symptoms associated with the disorder. Cholesterol buildup, which narrows the arteries that carry blood to essential organs such as the heart and brain, takes place slowly, with no symptoms. Because there are usually no warning signs, it is extremely important to undergo routine blood tests for cholesterol and to take necessary steps to bring high levels down to a healthy range. If not adequately lowered, these elevated cholesterol levels could lead to heart disease and stroke.

  • Risk Factors

    Age, gender, high blood pressure (hypertension), family history of heart attack, and having gone through menopause are other risk factors for having high cholesterol Figure 02. Older people are more susceptible to having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart attacks. Men tend to have more trouble with high cholesterol and heart disease at earlier ages. However, after about the age of sixty, the incidence rate is the same.

    If high cholesterol is in your family, you are more susceptible as well. Women who have gone through menopause are believed to be at greater risk for high cholesterol because they have lower levels of the hormone estrogen in the bloodstream. Estrogen is thought to be a protective agent against heart disease in general and high cholesterol, though studies show that taking estrogen pills after menopause can increase the risk of heart disease in women.

    Click to enlarge: Blood pressure chart

    Figure 02. Blood pressure chart

    Being overweight, leading a sedentary lifestyle, eating a diet rich in saturated fats, and smoking can put you at great risk for having high cholesterol. Excess body weight can contribute to high cholesterol and most importantly to high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol (HDLc). Individuals with a waist circumference of more than 40 inches if male and 35 inches if female and accompanying high triglycerides are found to have an increased risk of heart attack. Saturated fat, and cholesterol, found in animal products, can raise your blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fat raises these levels more than any other single dietary ingredient. Current smoking also put you at risk for heart disease several ways. Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol and smokers are more likely to have cholesterol rich plaques rupture and have heart attacks. Not getting enough exercise also contributes to your risk of heart attack. Those who exercise in regular fashion have higher HDLc, lower triglycerides, and are less likely to develop diabetes.

    While anyone can develop high cholesterol, certain drugs can put you at higher risk. In addition to heredity and drugs, certain diseases may also contribute to your risk of heart attack by raising levels of cholesterol and/or triglycerides. These factors include low thyroid gland activity (hypothyroidism), some forms of diabetes, and certain kidney and liver disorders. Drugs that alter lipid levels include drugs for high blood pressure like beta blockers and diuretics, endocrine drugs like birth control pills, female hormones and steroids (prednisone) and dermatologic drugs like retinoic acid (for acne). Certain drugs used to treat HIV can also increase cholesterol. Some actions are favorable (estrogens lower LDL) but some are not. This needs to be discussed with your doctor. If an essential drug increases your cholesterol, your doctor can prescribe a drug that lower your cholesterol.

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I'm Beth Isaac, PharmD. Welcome to PDR Health!

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