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STDWatch
Hannah Kingston

Jul 06, 20227 min read

High Cholesterol Symptoms, Causes and Diseases

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We’ve all heard that high cholesterol is bad for you, but there are many factors that can play into your cholesterol levels and overall health. Not all cholesterol is bad, and our bodies need some cholesterol for certain processes. But what happens when you have excessively high cholesterol, also known as hypercholesterolemia?

Keep reading to learn more about high cholesterol, its causes, symptoms, and treatment.

Cholesterol functions

Cholesterol is a waxy type of fat that can be found in the blood. We’re used to hearing that extremely high cholesterol causes many health risks — which is true — but a certain amount of cholesterol is also necessary for your body to function properly.

According to an article published in the journal Nutrients, healthy cholesterol levels help maintain the integrity of cell membranes throughout the entire human body. Cholesterol is also a precursor for many different substances, including hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids. 

Not all cholesterol is the same. According to MedlinePlus, there are two main types of cholesterol:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol

High LDL cholesterol levels can significantly increase your risk of different diseases. Cholesterol can stick to the walls of your blood vessels, creating fatty buildups in a process known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can cause blockages that decrease blood circulation to certain parts of your body. Bits of these blockages can also break off and cut circulation at a different point. Some of the diseases that are associated with high cholesterol include:

  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Angina
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic kidney disease

Risk factors for high cholesterol

High cholesterol is caused by many different factors — some of which you can control, and some which you can’t. According to the Mayo Clinic, certain chronic diseases can increase your risk of high cholesterol, including:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Lupus
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (FH)
  • Certain medications for:
    • High blood pressure
    • HIV/AIDS
    • Acne
    • Cancer
    • Arrhythmias

Although you may not be able to modify some of these situations, the good news is that you can modify the most important risk factors for high cholesterol which are associated with your lifestyle. Lifestyle risk factors for high cholesterol include:

  • Excess weight or obesity
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • A poor diet
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol intake

Signs and symptoms of high cholesterol

Unfortunately, high cholesterol or hypercholesterolemia doesn’t cause any recognizable signs until it causes health complications. According to the British Heart Foundation, high cholesterol is a hidden risk factor because it develops without patients noticing it.

Cedars-Sinai points out that in some cases of severe hypercholesterolemia, signs and symptoms can include:

  • Fatty deposits on tendons and/or skin
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Enlarged liver or spleen

How to know if cholesterol is high?

The easiest and most accurate way to check whether you have elevated cholesterol levels is to take a cholesterol blood test. According to the CDC, even children and teenagers should get their cholesterol levels checked.

People under the age of 20 without a high risk of heart disease should get a cholesterol test every 5 years, while people with heart disease risk factors should get this test more frequently.

People under the age of 20 should have less than 170 mg/dL of total cholesterol, regardless of their gender. LDL cholesterol should be lower than 110 mg/dL, while HDL should be above 45 mg/dL.

Cholesterol levels chart for men

Men above the age of 20 should have the following cholesterol levels:

  • Total cholesterol: 125 mg/dL-200 mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL 
  • HDL cholesterol: 40 mg/dL or higher

Cholesterol levels chart for women

Women above the age of 20 should have the following cholesterol levels:

  • Total cholesterol: 125 mg/dL-200 mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL 
  • HDL cholesterol: 50 mg/dL or higher

How to manage your cholesterol levels

As we mentioned above, most cases of high cholesterol are associated with lifestyle risk factors that you can modify by leading a healthier life. The good news is that it’s never too late to make changes to manage your cholesterol levels. High cholesterol becomes more likely as we get older, but a healthy lifestyle and routine medical checkups can help you keep your levels under control.

According to the NHS, some of the things you can start doing to lower your cholesterol levels include:

  • Reduce your intake of fatty or starchy foods
  • Exercise regularly for at least 150 minutes each week
  • Stop smoking
  • Cut down your alcohol consumption

Keep in mind that it can be difficult to overhaul your entire lifestyle immediately. But even small changes can help. For example, it may not be the best idea to go straight from a sedentary lifestyle to performing advanced workouts everyday; however, you can start by walking or jogging around your neighborhood several times each week.

If your cholesterol levels are high, your doctor will probably recommend lifestyle changes, but they may also prescribe certain medications and supplements. Statins are the most commonly used medication to manage cholesterol.

FAQ: High Cholesterol

What are the best foods for good cholesterol?

Some of the best foods to increase good cholesterol include:

  • Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, trout, and herring
  • Whole grain products, such as whole grain bread or pasta
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds

Can beer increase cholesterol?

Drinking beer in moderation is unlikely to cause health issues, as long as you lead a healthy and active lifestyle. However, beer does contain alcohol and carbohydrates, which can increase your triglycerides and cholesterol.

Does peanut butter raise cholesterol?

There’s no dietary cholesterol in nut butters such as peanut, cashew, pistachio, and almond butter. In fact, nuts and nut butters are a heart-healthy food, as long as they don’t contain added sugars, additives, or excessive salt. However, nut butters are also very high in calories, and they should be consumed in moderation.

Managing your cholesterol is just one part of your health. In order to stay healthy, it’s also important to get regular tests, including screening for STDs. Learn more about at-home STD testing at STDWatch.com.

Sources

New Insights into Cholesterol Functions: A Friend or an Enemy? - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Cholesterol Levels - medlineplus.gov

High cholesterol - mayoclinic.org

High Cholesterol - Causes, Symptoms & Treatments - bhf.org.uk

How and When to Have Your Cholesterol Checked - cdc.gov

High Cholesterol - cedars-sinai.org

How to lower your cholesterol - nhs.uk


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