What Are The Symptoms of High Cholesterol Levels?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance produced by the liver. It is necessary for the formation of cell membranes, vitamin D and certain hormones. Cholesterol is insoluble in water and does not move through the body on its own.
Particles called lipoproteins help transport cholesterol in the blood. There are two main forms of lipoproteins.
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as “bad cholesterol,” accumulate in the arteries and can cause serious health problems, such as heart attacks and strokes.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), sometimes called “good cholesterol,” helps remove LDL cholesterol back to the liver.
Eating too many high-fat foods can increase the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood. This is called hypercholesterolemia, also known as hypercholesterolemia or hyperlipidemia.
When LDL cholesterol is too high or HDL cholesterol is too low, fatty deposits can form in the blood vessels. These deposits make it difficult for blood to flow through the arteries. This can lead to problems throughout the body, especially in the heart and brain, and can even be fatal.
What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?
High cholesterol does not usually cause any symptoms. In most cases, they only cause emergencies. For example, a heart attack or stroke may be caused by damage from high cholesterol.
These events usually do not occur until plaque caused by high cholesterol builds up in the arteries. Plaque narrows the arteries, allowing less blood to pass through. The formation of plaque changes the composition of the artery wall. This can lead to serious complications.
The only way to find out if you have high cholesterol is to have a blood test. If you are over the age of 20, ask your doctor for a cholesterol test. Ask your doctor to check your cholesterol after the age of 20, every 4 to 6 years.
If you have a family history of high cholesterol, your doctor may also recommend that you have your cholesterol checked more often. Or if you have any of the following risk factors
- Have high blood pressure
- Are too thin
There is a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, which is transmitted through the gene that causes high cholesterol levels. People with this disease have cholesterol levels of 300 mg/dl or higher. They may have xanthomas, which are yellow patches on the skin or lumps under the skin.
Coronary artery disease (heart disease)
Symptoms of heart disease can vary in men and women. However, heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Common symptoms include the following
- Angina pectoris, chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Back pain
Plaque buildup from high cholesterol can put you at serious risk for reduced or interrupted blood flow to important parts of your brain. This is what happens when you have a stroke.
A stroke is a medical emergency. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a stroke, it is important to act quickly and seek treatment. These symptoms may include the following
- Back pain
- sudden onset of dizziness
- Misalignment of the cheekbones
- Inability to move, especially on one side of the body
- misalignment of words
- missing words
- numbness of limbs
- blurred vision
As plaque builds up, the arteries that supply blood to the heart gradually narrow. This process, known as atherosclerosis, occurs slowly over time without any symptoms. Eventually, pieces of the plaque may fall off. If this happens, a blood clot can form around the plaque. It prevents blood from flowing to the heart muscle, depriving it of oxygen and nutrients.
This deprivation is called ischemia. When the heart is damaged or when a part of the heart begins to die from lack of oxygen, it is called a heart attack. The medical term for a heart attack is a myocardial infarction.
A heart attack is a medical emergency. If treatment is not started within hours of a heart attack, the damage to the heart can be irreversible and even fatal.
If you or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack, it is important to act quickly to get treatment.
Peripheral artery disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when plaque builds up on the walls of the arteries. This blocks the flow of blood through the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys, arms, stomach, legs and feet.
Early symptoms of PAD may include
- Soreness and pain
- Leg pain
- Discomfort in the legs and feet
As PAD progresses, symptoms are more likely to occur even at rest. Aftereffects caused by reduced blood flow may include
- Foot skin
- Tissue death due to lack of blood flow, called gangrene
- leg and foot ulcers that do not heal
- foot pain that does not heal
- Burned toes
- Cramps in the feet
- Thick toenails
- Toes that turn blue
- Hair loss that does not heal
- Decreased body temperature in the lower half of the body
Patients with PAD have an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or amputation.
High cholesterol is easily diagnosed by a blood test, called a lipid test. Your doctor will draw blood and send it to a lab for analysis. Your doctor will ask you not to eat or drink anything for at least 12 hours before the test.
The lipid panel will measure your total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. These are ideal levels, according to reliable sources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL.
- High-density lipoprotein cholesterol: 60 mg/dL or higher.
- Triglycerides: less than 150 mg/dL.
Your total cholesterol is generally considered “high” if it is between 200 and 239 mg/dL, or “high” if it is 240 mg/dL or higher.
Your LDL cholesterol is generally considered “high” if it is between 130 and 159 mg/dL and “high” if it is 160 mg/dL or higher.
Your HDL cholesterol is generally considered “low” if it is below 40 mg/dL.
How do I monitor my cholesterol levels?
The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults over the age of 20 have their cholesterol levels checked every four to six years. People at high risk for high cholesterol levels may need to be checked more frequently.
You may also need to have your cholesterol checked more frequently if you have a family history of cholesterol problems or heart attacks when you were younger, especially if it affected your parents or grandparents.
High cholesterol doesn’t mean you’ll develop symptoms early on, so it’s important to make good lifestyle choices. Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and have your doctor check and monitor your cholesterol levels regularly.