Cholesterol is an essential molecule for the human body in order to make steroids, hormones, maintain nerve cells, and fulfill other important roles for the body. Unfortunately, high levels of cholesterol can become dangerous. When a person has levels of cholesterol in the blood that are higher than normal, they’re diagnosed with a condition called hypercholesterolemia.
Hypercholesterolemia may sound like a serious condition, so you may be asking yourself, “What is hypercholesterolemia?” The basic definition of this condition is when cholesterol levels in the blood are 240 milligrams per 1 deciliter of blood (240mg/dL). Cholesterol is divided into 2 categories: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is considered bad for the body, while HDL is good. The blood test to measure cholesterol levels is given after fasting for 12 hours. The highest the LDL should be is 130 mg/dL, with the preferred goal being below 100 mg/dL. It’s important to be tested for hypercholesterolemia simply because there aren’t any symptoms of the condition.
Dangers of Hypercholesterolemia
Hypercholesterolemia can cause major problems. The extra cholesterol circulating throughout the body can cause deposits to form inside blood vessels. These deposits can eventually block the blood vessels which can cause blood clots that completely stop the flow of blood. This is when either a heart attack or a stroke occurs if blood stops flowing to the heart or brain.
Causes of Hypercholesterolemia
Most cases of high cholesterol are caused by lifestyle habits. This includes eating foods with high levels of cholesterol and saturated fats. This type of diet often leads to obesity, which actually causes more cholesterol to be produced. There are other diseases that can cause high cholesterol as well. Diabetes mellitus, liver disease, hypothyroidism, and kidney disease can all contribute to hypercholesterolemia. It can also be inherited, which is called familial hypercholesterolemia.
So, what causes familial hypercholesterolemia (FH)? FH is inherited high cholesterol levels due to genetic mutations that prevent the liver from metabolizing excess LDL. These high levels are present even in those with healthy diet and exercise habits.
Now that your question of “what is hypercholesterolemia?” has been answered, here’s what you should know about treatment: Not smoking, exercising regularly, and eating a diet low in saturated and trans fats along with medication in some cases can help keep your cholesterol under control. Those with FH almost always require the use of medication.