Cholesterol and Heart Disease

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol helps your body build new cells, insulate nerves, and produce hormones. Normally, the liver makes all the cholesterol the body needs. But cholesterol also enters your body when eating animal based food products for example milk, eggs, and meat. Too much cholesterol in your body is a risk factor for heart disease.

How Does High Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease?

When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries, causing a process called atherosclerosis, a form of heart disease. The arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart muscle is slowed down or blocked. The blood carries oxygen to the heart, and if enough blood and oxygen cannot reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.

There are two forms of cholesterol: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol.) These are the forms in which cholesterol travels in the blood.

LDL is the main source of artery-clogging plaque. HDL actually works to clear cholesterol from the blood.

Triglycerides are another fat in our bloodstream. Research is now showing that high levels of triglycerides may also be linked to heart disease.

What are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?

High cholesterol itself does not cause any symptoms; so many people are unaware that their cholesterol levels are too high. Therefore, it is important to find out what your cholesterol levels are. Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk of developing heart disease and reduces the chance of a heart attack or dying of heart disease.

Risk Factors for Developing High Cholesterol

Many factors can increase your risk of developing high cholesterol. The good news is that most of them are things you can control. There are only a few risk factors for high cholesterol that are out of your control:

Gender and Age

Being a man or a post-menopausal woman increases your risk of high cholesterol. The female hormone estrogen appears to offer a protective effect on cholesterol. For that reason, from puberty to menopause, women generally have higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol than men. After menopause, however, women tend to have higher levels of LDL than men.

Family History

Having a family history of high cholesterol can put you at risk as well. If high cholesterol is due to inherited genes, a person could be born with high levels of LDL cholesterol and must work with their doctor to control it.


A diet high in calories from saturated fat or trans-fat and sugar can elevate your "bad" LDL and triglyceride levels and raise your overall risk of high cholesterol.


A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more puts you at greater risk of high cholesterol. Losing weight, ideally through a healthy diet and exercise, can lower it.

Physical Inactivity

Regular exercise can help lower your LDL cholesterol level.


Cigarette smoking damages your arterial walls, making them more susceptible to plaque buildup. It may also lower your “good” HDL cholesterol.


People with diabetes are more likely to have low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. High blood sugar can damage the lining of the arteries and, when coupled with high cholesterol, increase the risk of plaque buildup. High cholesterol due to diabetes is called diabetic dyslipidemia.

What Numbers Should I Look For?

It is recommended that everyone over age 20 should get their cholesterol levels measured at least once every 5 years. The test that is performed is a blood test called a lipoprotein profile. That includes:

  • Total cholesterol level
  • LDL (the "bad" cholesterol)
  • HDL (the "good" cholesterol)
  • Triglycerides

Here's how to interpret your cholesterol numbers:

Total Cholesterol


Less than 200


200 - 239

Borderline High

240 and above


LDL Cholesterol

LDL-Cholesterol Category

Less than 100


100 - 129

Near optimal/above optimal

130 - 159

Borderline high

160 - 189


190 and above

Very high


HDL-Cholesterol Category

60 or more

Desirable - helps to lower risk of
heart disease

Less than 40

Major risk factor -- increases the
risk for developing heart disease

*HDL (good) cholesterol protects against heart disease, so for HDL, higher numbers are better.


HDL-Cholesterol Category

Less than 150

Normal (desirable)
heart disease


Borderline high




Very high 

You can lower your cholesterol by exercising more and eating more fruits and vegetables. You may also need to take medicine to lower your cholesterol.

Brought to you by Intercare Medical & Dental Centres.


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