High cholesterol: what you need to know

By: Osler Health International
Posted on: 6 May 2022

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced by the liver for the formation of healthy cells, specific hormones and vitamin D. Since cholesterol is a type of lipid, it is insoluble in water and requires lipoproteins to travel through the bloodstream. There are two types of lipoprotein: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

Cholesterol transported by low-density lipoprotein is called LDL cholesterol, while cholesterol transported by high-density lipoprotein is called HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) is carried to the liver, where it is broken down and removed from the body before it builds up in the bloodstream. On the other hand, LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) is transported directly to the arteries, causing plaque to build up. Over time, your arteries may narrow, and clots may form in the arteries, resulting in a heart attack or stroke. Hence, if high levels of LDL cholesterol are detected in your bloodstream, you may be diagnosed with high cholesterol.

What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?

High cholesterol typically presents no signs in the early stages. Many people don’t realise that they have high cholesterol till they develop severe complications, including:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Angina, or chest pain 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Peripheral vascular disease 
  • Chronic kidney disease

The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is through a blood test. Hence, it is vital to go for regular health screenings. The doctors at Osler Health may recommend more frequent cholesterol screening depending on your results and existing health conditions.

What causes high cholesterol?

You may have a higher risk of developing high cholesterol if you have the following risk factors: 

  • Obesity. Having a body mass index of 30 or higher increases your risk of developing high cholesterol.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. Keeping active helps to raise the level of HDL in your body, hence increasing the amount of cholesterol that is carried to the liver for elimination.
  • A diet high in saturated and trans fats can result in unhealthy cholesterol levels. Foods high in saturated and trans fats include red meat, egg yolks, high-fat dairy products, processed foods, deep-fried foods and certain baked goods.
  • Smoking. Tobacco may lower the level of HDL in your body.
  • Alcohol consumption may raise your overall cholesterol levels.
  • Age. While people of any age can develop high cholesterol, it is more common in people over the age of 40. This is because the liver function declines with age, and your liver becomes less able to break down and remove LDL cholesterol.
  • A family history of high cholesterol. High cholesterol may be hereditary.
  • Certain medical conditions can cause unhealthy cholesterol levels, including diabetes, chronic kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, hypothyroidism and lupus.
  • Taking certain medications for conditions like acne, high blood pressure, cancer, HIV/AIDS, irregular heart rhythms, and organ transplants can result in unhealthy cholesterol levels.

How to reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol? 

You can make lifestyle changes to achieve and maintain healthy cholesterol levels, such as: 

  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight 
  • Limiting your intake of foods high in saturated and trans fats 
  • Loading up on high-fibre foods, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains
  • Avoiding fried, sugary and fast foods 
  • Increasing your intake of foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, almonds, walnuts and avocados 
  • Quitting smoking 
  • Staying active and engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week 
  • Consuming alcohol in moderation

Depending on your condition, your doctor may prescribe medications to manage your cholesterol levels. Speak to our experienced doctors at Osler Health today to address your cholesterol concerns and find out more about the available health screening options in Singapore.

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