Understanding the Risks of High Cholesterol: Insights from an Internal Medicine Doctor

High cholesterol is a common health concern that can have serious implications if left unaddressed. I encounter numerous patients struggling with the effects of elevated cholesterol levels, which can quietly compromise health over the years. It’s crucial to understand what high cholesterol really entails, its consequences, and the strategies for management and prevention.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells of the body. While it’s necessary for producing hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help digest foods, an excess of cholesterol can lead to major health issues. High cholesterol, or hyperlipidemia, means there are high levels of cholesterol in the blood. This condition often develops silently and usually displays no symptoms on its own.

The Impact of High Cholesterol

When cholesterol levels are high, fatty deposits can develop in your blood vessels. Over time, these deposits grow, making it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries.

This reduced blood flow can lead to complications such as chest pain, heart attack, or stroke.

The dangers of high cholesterol are thus severely significant, affecting not just heart health but overall physical well-being.

It is important to note that there are two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol through the blood.

  1. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, and
  2. High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol.

Since high cholesterol itself does not cause any symptoms, it is often detected through a blood test called a lipid panel[1]. This test measures total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Regular screening is recommended, especially if you have a family history of high cholesterol or other risk factors.

In internal medicine, we advocate for early detection and proactive management to prevent the escalation of associated health issues.

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Here are five key things you need to know about cholesterol:

  1. Cholesterol is Vital for the Body

Despite its bad reputation, cholesterol plays several crucial roles in maintaining your health. It is vital for the formation of cell membranes, serves as a precursor for the synthesis of vitamin D and various hormones, including sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone.

Cholesterol is also necessary for the production of bile acids, which help digest fat.

Therefore, while high levels of cholesterol are harmful, cholesterol itself is indispensable for various bodily functions.

  1. There Are Different Types of Cholesterol

Cholesterol travels through your blood bound to proteins, forming complexes known as lipoproteins.

The two main types of lipoproteins are Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to fatty buildups in arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease.

On the other hand, HDL is known as “good” cholesterol because it helps remove other forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream. Understanding these types can help an internal medicine doctor better assess cardiovascular risk and tailor treatment accordingly.

  1. Lifestyle Can Significantly Influence Cholesterol Levels

Lifestyle choices have a profound impact on cholesterol levels.

The primary approach includes a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol, regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight. [2]For those who smoke, quitting is crucial.

Diets high in saturated fats and trans fats can increase LDL cholesterol, whereas foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like fish) and soluble fiber (found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) can lower it.

Regular physical activity can also boost your HDL levels, enhancing your body’s ability to remove LDL cholesterol.

  1. Genetics Also Play a Role

Your genetic makeup can significantly influence your cholesterol levels, a condition sometimes known as familial hypercholesterolemia.

This genetic disorder prevents the body from removing LDL cholesterol efficiently, leading to dangerously high levels that can result in early cardiovascular disease.

In such cases, lifestyle changes alone may not be sufficient, and more aggressive treatments, such as medications, might be necessary.

  1. Medication is Not Always Necessary

While medications like statins are effective at lowering LDL cholesterol and reducing cardiovascular risk, they are not suitable for everyone.

For individuals with borderline high cholesterol or those who are at moderate risk of heart disease, lifestyle modifications might be sufficient to achieve desirable cholesterol levels.

By maintaining regular consultations and staying informed, patients can effectively manage their cholesterol levels and reduce their risk of heart disease, embodying a proactive approach to their health and wellness.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470561/

[2] https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/blood-cholesterol/treatment

Watch the videos here:

  1. All you need to know about cholesterol
  2. Misconceptions about cholesterol

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About Dr Adrian Mondry

Dr Adrian Mondry is a Hypertension Specialist accredited by the German Hypertension League in Singapore. He was previously a senior consultant in the department of medicine at the National University Hospital and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH), Dr Mondry has more than 30 years of experience in the field of internal medicine.

Dr Adrian Mondry is recognised for his leadership and contributions in establishing the dedicated hypertension clinic within the National University Health System and fast-track deep vein thrombosis service at NTFGH.

Dr Adrian Mondry is fluent in English, German and French.

About Kaizen Medical

Kaizen Medical is located at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, Suite 11-57.

At Kaizen, we provide in depth health care to patients with multi-organs diseases; tackling undifferentiated presentations that cannot be easily assigned to a single organ.

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