Hypercholesterolemia is a disorder that causes high levels of cholesterol in blood. Cholesterol is a waxy, soft, fatty substance that is present naturally in the cells of the body.
It is produced in amounts that are required by the body. Cholesterol also enters the body through the food we eat. This extra cholesterol is very dangerous and harmful to one’s health.
Overview of hypercholesterolemia
Hypercholesterolemia is an increase in cholesterol in blood. This causes an increase in risk of heart diseases, heart attack as well as stroke. The extra cholesterol in blood, sticks to the arteries forming plaque. This narrows the walls and reduces blood supply to the brain, heart as well as other organs.
Sometimes, the plaque can break loose from its original site and flow through the arteries. It may block an artery and lead to sudden stroke or heart attack.
Cholesterol cannot dissolve in water and therefore requires lipoproteins (LDL) to help them travel throughout the body. These lipoproteins are low-density particles produced in the liver. Hypercholesterolemia is a very dangerous condition as it can lead to death, if left untreated.
Signs and Symptoms of hypercholesterolemia
Hypercholesterolemia does not exhibit any symptoms and thus, progresses to atherosclerosis. The chronically high levels of cholesterol in blood over the years leads to atheromatous plaques in the arteries. This causes stenosis and even causes complete blockage. The blockage and obstruction can lead to a sudden myocardial infraction or heart attack. A rupture of an artery in the brain will lead to stroke.
The gradual reduction of blood flow to the tissues and other organs, causing reduction in their normal functioning abilities. Soon, this will lead to symptoms, according to the organ affected.
- Transient ischemic attack
- Insufficient supply to the heart causing chest pain
- Transient loss of vision in one eye
- Pain in the calf when walking
- Pain in abdomen after eating
At times, physical symptoms such as yellow patches underneath the skin of the eyelids, white or gray discoloration of the cornea, deposits of yellowish cholesterol under the tendons of the fingers, etc. can be observed.
Causes of Hypercholesterolemia
In many cases, hypercholesterolemia is an inherited condition. In some cases, it can be due to defects in multiple genes and in some cases, one gene, leading to familial hypercholesterolaemia. Other underlying conditions can also lead to high cholesterol. These conditions include:
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Anorexia nervosa
- Use of medications such as thiazide diuretics, glucocorticoids, beta blockers, etc.
- Eating unhealthy, oily, junk food along with a sedentary lifestyle can lead to increase in serum cholesterol
Diagnosis of hypercholesterolemia
Diagnosis is carried out with the help of blood test to measure high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and triglycerides. One may even be asked to undergo a coronary artery calcium scan, especially if they have a family history of heart diseases and cholesterol.
Treatment of hypercholesterolemia
Hypercholesterolemia is managed by carrying out lifestyle changes. These changes include:
- Quitting smoking completely
- Complete abstinence from alcohol
- Exercing and increasing the amount of physical aciticity
- Dieting and maintaining a healthy body weight
- Reducing the amount of saturated fats as well as trans fat in the diet
Medical treatment for hypercholesterolemia includes:
- Use of medications like statins
- Nicotinic acid
One needs to change the way they eat and live to prevent hypercholesterolemia. High cholesterol in the blood is an indication of sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet. Genetics too plays a part in high serum cholesterol and thus, one should try and eat and stay healthy to prevent this condition. Speak to your medical advisor for more details related to hypercholesterolemia and your health.
Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 07, 2015