What is cholesterol?
- A soft, waxy, fatty substance that is a part of all cell membranes
and many hormones
- Needed for rapid conduction of nerve impulses, and for several other
- Produced by the body, primarily in the liver.
Some cholesterol comes from our diet, often contributing to "high
cholesterol," meaning there is too much cholesterol in the blood stream.
High blood cholesterol:
- Is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
- Has no symptoms.
- Contributes to the formation of fatty plaques on the inside of
- The plaques narrow the inside diameter of the blood vessel, reducing
- Reduced blood flow can cause "angina pectoris," or chest pain
because the heart muscle is not getting enough oxygen.
- If the plaque ruptures, a clot forms. A clot in an artery in the
heart can cause a heart attack; a clot in an artery in the brain can
cause a stroke. The bigger the artery and the bigger the clot, the more
severe the heart attack or stroke.
Cholesterol travels in the blood stream attached to lipoproteins, clusters of
proteins linked together. The two most commonly looked at lipoproteins are
low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and
high-density lipoproteins (HDL). A blood test
called a lipid profile reports the total
cholesterol level as well as LDL, HDL, and
triglyceride levels. Results are measured in milligrams (mg) of total
cholesterol, LDL, HDL or triglycerides per deciliter (dl) of blood. A lipid
profile is usually done after a nine to twelve hour fast.
It is important to know your numbers, so you
know what your risks are. If the levels are all where they should be, try to
keep them there. If one or more of them are too high or too low it is called
dyslipidemia. There are multiple methods to treat dyslipidemias, or "problem
blood lipids." The most common are diet,
medications. Other things that can affect lipid
levels are smoking, sleep, and
stress. Learning how to get and keep your lipids in a desirable range can be
a challenging, rewarding, frustrating, or exhilarating experience, depending on
your commitment and attitude about lifestyle changes that may be