High cholesterol may be a silent killer, but symptoms may showcase in subtle ways there are several indicators of cardiovascular diseases, of which cholesterol is one of the top risk factors. 

Raised cholesterol levels increase the risks of heart disease and stroke, as per the World Health Organization. Furthermore, a third of ischemic heart disease is attributable to high cholesterol worldwide. 

What makes high cholesterol more concerning is the fact that most often, it doesn’t manifest itself through symptoms or a person’s physical appearance, which is why it is also termed a ‘silent killer’. 


Cholesterol is not always bad:- 

As opposed to popular belief, not all cholesterol is bad for your body. There are two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol throughout the body. These include: LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). 

LDL is also known as “bad” cholesterol while HDL is considered “good”. This is because HDL absorbs cholesterol and carries cholesterol to your liver, where it can be removed from the bloodstream before it forms as plaque in the artery walls.

If you’re looking to increase your HDL ‘good’ cholesterol levels in the body, you must indulge in regular exercise, quit smoking and maintain a healthy weight. 

Eating nutritious foods, usually healthy cooking oil and increase the intake of fruits and vegetables can help tremendously.


What does having high cholesterol mean?:-

Cholesterol is a waxy substance present in your blood. While it has earned itself a bad reputation, it is something that your body needs in order to make healthy cells. However, high levels of cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits in your blood vessels, which as they grow, make it challenging for the blood to flow through your arteries. 

At times, these deposits may even break down, leading to a formation of a clot and thereby heart attack or a stroke. While there is no sure shot sign to indicate high levels of cholesterol. There are sensations that can indicate the illness.


Why is high cholesterol concerning?:- 

Apart from the fact that increased cholesterol comes with no visible sign, hence making it hard to detect, it can be detrimental for your heart.

“Raised cholesterol level increase the risks of heart disease and stroke.” Globally, a third of ischaemic  heart disease is attributable to high cholesterol.


Two types of pain to note, when using your arms:- 

It is important that we maintain a balanced level of cholesterol in the body, since it can cause fatty build-ups in the arteries, leading to reduced blood flow to the arms and legs. This condition is also called peripheral artery disease (PAD), which causes acute pain. 

Revealing the pain while using one’s arm, could be a tell-tale sign of raising cholesterol. If left untreated, the pain could take the form of aching and cramping when knitting, writing or doing other manual tasks, as per the health body. The entire process of pain beginning from the start of the movement to a resting position is also called claudication. The pain can range from mild to severe, and usually goes away after a few minutes when you rest your legs. “Both legs are often affected at the same time, although the pain may be worse in one leg.”


What is peripheral artery disease (PAD)?:- 

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is mostly caused by a build-up of fatty, cholesterol containing deposits, also known as plaques, on artery walls. This fatty build-up is also atherosclerosis, which reduces the blood flow through the arteries. It is a disease of the arteries in the legs. Common symptoms include numbness in the legs, painful cramps in one or both hips, weak or no pulse in the legs or feet and more. In certain causes, peripheral artery disease can get worse. Pain may occur during rest or when lying down, interrupting sleep at times. 


Any pain does not necessarily mean high cholesterol:- 

Pain in the arms could mean a lot of things other than high cholesterol. Arm and shoulder pain are one of the signs of heart attack and angina, which is concerning as having high cholesterol level. Other benign but concerning causes of a arm pain include a skeletomuscular injury. strain, sprain, dislocation and more. 


Other common signs to note:- 

Apart from painful sensations in the arm, here are some other common signs of PAD:- 

  • Numbness or weakness in the legs. 
  • Hair loss on your legs and feet. 
  • Brittle, slow-growing toenails.
  • Ulcers (open sores) on your feet and legs, which do not heal. 
  • Changing skin color on your legs, such as turning pale or blue.
  • In men, erectile dysfunction. 

It is important that cholesterol screenings are conducted regularly. According to to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a person’s first cholesterol screening should occur between the ages of 9 and 11, and then be repeated every five years after that. 


High cholesterol can cause other complications:- 

Given that high cholesterol can cause dangerous levels of fat build up in the artery walls, it can block the blood flow through the arteries, giving rise to other health complications such as:-

  • Heart attack:-  Heart attack can occur when the plaque build up ruptures, leading to blood clots. This can also lead to chest pain or angina. 
  • Stroke:-  A stroke occurs when the blood flow to the brain is blocked due to the heavy fat build up in the artery walls. 


Get yourself tested:- 

Those of you who want to get yourself tested for raised cholesterol, can get a blood test, also called a lipid panel or lipid profile, which reports the total cholesterol, LDL and HDL cholesterol and Triglycerides — a type of fat in the blood. 

You’re required to fast, consuming no food or liquids other than water, for nine to 12 hours before the test. However, certain cholesterol tests do not require fasting, so consult your doctor.


When to see a doctor:- 

A person’s first cholesterol screening should occur between the ages of 9 and 11, and be repeated every 5 years. It is recommended that men between the ages of 45 to 65 and women between the ages 55 to 65 should get a cholesterol screening every one or two years. Your doctor might also suggest more-frequent tests if you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure.


Factors that can increase your risk of high cholesterol:- 

There are several causes of unhealthy cholesterol levels. From poor diet — eating excess of saturated fats or trans fats, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol consumption can increase your risk of high cholesterol. Age can be also a common risk for illness. 


Lifestyle habits to adopt:- 

From diet, exercises to regular screenings, a lot can curb your risk of high cholesterol and other cardiovascular diseases.

The role of lifestyle is significant in trying to prevent heart-related illnesses. Some of the lifestyle changes you should bring in your life are as follows:- 

  • Eat heart-healthy, oil-free foods. Choose healthy fats like nuts and avocado. 
  • Exercise regularly, even it means going for a walk daily. 
  • Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake. 
  • If you’re overweight or obese, aim to get into a healthier shape. 
  • Avoid sugary, processed foods that can increase your risk of diseases. 


Foods to avoid:- 

Lifestyle plays an important role in curbing your risk for high cholesterol. It is crucial that you bring certain changes to your diet. While eating fresh, green vegetables, fruits and nutrient-dense foods is key, there are certain foods you must avoid. These include:- 

  • Processed meats 
  • Deep fried fast foods 
  • Coconut oil 
  • Takeaways
  • Sugary drinks and treats 
  • Full-fat dairy. 


Foods that are good for cholesterol management:- 

Portion control is the best way to eat your favorite foods, without letting it affect your health. 

However, you can always choose wholesome eating with the right food choices. For those looking to lower their cholesterol levels, here are the foods that you should eat:- 

  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains 
  • Fish 
  • Fiber-rich vegetables 
  • Berries 


Important points to note:- 

Dubbed as a silent killer, high cholesterol does not show any effect on the biological system until its too late. It poses immeasurable risk to the heart health. There are several other fatal complications associated with an elevated cholesterol level. 

It is therefore essential to get regular check-ups. Measure your blood cholesterol level regularly so that you don’t give it a chance to grow within you. 

Adopting healthy lifestyle practices is also essential to keep the cholesterol level in check. Eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and avoid consuming tobacco and alcohol. 

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