6 Tips When Starting Treatment For High Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol is a type of fat that circulates in the blood. Your body produces some cholesterol. The rest is fed to you by the food you eat.
The body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells and make hormones. But too much cholesterol can build up in your arteries and block blood flow.
Untreated high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
There are two types of cholesterol.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is the unhealthy type that builds up in your arteries.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is the healthy type that helps remove LDL cholesterol from the blood.
If your LDL or total cholesterol levels are too high, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or medications to improve them.
Here are some tips to help you get your cholesterol levels back into a healthy range.
Finding your Risk
High cholesterol may not be the only threat to your heart. Having one of these risk factors can increase your chances of having a heart attack or stroke
- Having a family history of heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Lack of exercise
- Being overweight or obese
If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your doctor about how to manage them.
Know your goals
Ask your doctor how much you need to lower your LDL cholesterol and raise your HDL cholesterol. The following are ideal levels
- Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL.
- LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL.
- HDL cholesterol: 60 mg/dL or higher.
Depending on your age, gender and risk of heart disease, your target cholesterol level may be slightly lower or slightly higher.
Change your diet
Just a few changes in your diet can bring your numbers back to healthy levels. Avoid or limit foods that contain these types of fats
- Saturated fats: Animal products can raise your LDL cholesterol. Red meat, full-fat dairy products, eggs, and vegetable oils such as palm and coconut oils are high in saturated fats.
- Trans fats. Manufacturers create these artificial fats through a chemical process that turns liquid vegetable oils into solids. Foods high in trans fats include fried foods, fast foods, and baked goods. These foods are low in nutrients and can raise LDL cholesterol.
Many of the foods listed above are also high in cholesterol, such as red meat and whole dairy products.
On the other hand, there are some foods that directly lower LDL cholesterol or prevent cholesterol from being absorbed into the body. These foods include the following
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils, such as sunflower, safflower, avocado and olive oil
- Oiled fish
- Fruits and vegetables
- Products high in sterols and stanols, such as orange juice and margarine
Be more active
Daily brisk walking or bicycling can help raise HDL cholesterol, thereby removing excess LDL cholesterol from the blood. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise five days a week.
Excess fat around the abdomen raises LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL cholesterol. Losing just 10% of your body weight can help you control your cholesterol. Better nutrition and regular exercise can help you lose weight.
In addition to increasing the risk of cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, smoking can also negatively affect cholesterol levels. Smokers tend to have higher total cholesterol, higher LDL and lower HDL.
Quitting smoking is easier said than done, but you have many options. If you have tried several methods without success, ask your doctor to recommend a new method to help you successfully quit smoking.
If lifestyle changes alone do not improve cholesterol levels, prescription medications may be an option.
Talk to your doctor about your best options. Your doctor will consider your risk of heart disease and other factors when deciding whether to prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications.
Statins block substances that your body needs to make cholesterol. These medications lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol.
- Lovastatin (Atoprev)
- Pitavastatin (Rivastigmine)
- Pravastatin (Pravachol)
- Rosuvastatin (Rosuvastatin)
- Simvastatin (Simvastatin)
Side effects of statins may include
- Muscle pain
- Increased blood sugar
- Stomach cramps
Bile acid chelators
Bile acid chelators prevent bile acids from the stomach from being absorbed into the bloodstream. In order to make more of these digestive substances, the liver must extract cholesterol from the blood and lower cholesterol levels.
These drugs include the following
Side effects of bile acid chelators may include the following
- bloating (abdominal distention)
Cholesterol absorption inhibitors
Cholesterol absorption inhibitors lower cholesterol by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine.
There are two types of drugs in this class. One of them is ezetimibe (Zetia). The other is ezetimibe simvastatin, which is a combination of a cholesterol absorption inhibitor and a statin.
The side effects of cholesterol absorption inhibitors may include the following.
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle pain
Niacin is a B vitamin that helps raise HDL cholesterol. Prescription brands of niacin include Niacor and Niaspan. Side effects of niacin may include
- redness all over the face
- abdominal pain
These new drugs block a protein called PCSK9, which helps a reliable source remove LDL cholesterol from the blood. PCSK9 inhibitors are often used when lifestyle changes and statins alone are not enough.
Some people have a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, which causes elevated LDL cholesterol levels. This makes it more difficult to fight high cholesterol.
PCSK9 inhibitors include the following
- Evolocumab (Repatha)
These are newer drugs, so their potential side effects have not been determined. Here are some of the ones that have been seen in clinical trials
- Itching, pain, swelling, or bruising at the injection site
- Flu symptoms
- Back pain
Fiber targets triglycerides in the body and can also increase HDL cholesterol in the blood.
Here are some examples of fiber
- Side effects may include
- Stomach upset, including nausea, fatigue and diarrhea.
- Liver inflammation
Citrate lyase (ACL) inhibitors
ACL inhibitors prevent the liver from processing cholesterol and help lower LDL cholesterol. People with familial hypercholesterolemia and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) may benefit.
An example of an ACL inhibitor is shown below.
Side effects of ACL inhibitors may include the following
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- tingling and pain
- back pain
- abdominal pain
- Elevated liver enzymes
- Elevated uric acid
You can manage high cholesterol by making a variety of lifestyle changes. These include eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a moderate weight.
If these changes are not enough, talk to your doctor about prescription medications that can help treat high cholesterol.