Updated 13 August 2022 | Approved By Dr. Umberto Russo
What is High Cholesterol?Dyslipidaemia (or high cholesterol) describes an elevated level of lipids (fat) in the bloodstream. High cholesterol increases the risk of blocking the blood vessels. This process is called atherosclerosis where collections of fat in the vessels cause the walls to become thickened and hard. Over time, it can lead to chronic conditions which may need to be controlled. According to the Australian Institute Health and Welfare, around 63% of Australians are diagnosed with dyslipidaemia . The risk of develop high cholesterol levels increases from the ages of 18-24 and increases 81% between the ages of 65-74.
What is a High Cholesterol Level?Dyslipidaemia can be determined by how much fat there is circulating around the blood vessels. Your GP will refer you for appropriate testing to monitor your cholesterol levels. There are four medical measurements that can can be used to diagnose dyslipidaemia, including :
- Total cholesterol higher than 5.5mmol/L
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels higher than 3.5mmol/L
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or ‘good’ cholesterol levels lower than 1mmol/L in men or 1.3mmol/L in women
- Triglyceride levels higher than 2.0mmol/L
High Cholesterol SymptomsThere are no specific symptoms of high cholesterol. However, complications and conditions related to high cholesterol can lead to certain symptoms, including:
- Chest pain
- Pins and needles
What Causes High Cholesterol?The body needs fat to function (e.g. hormone production, energy, etc.). However, an imbalance or rise in fat levels is the cause of high cholesterol. LDLs or ‘bad cholesterol’ can build-up and block blood vessels in the body. On the other hand, HDLs or ‘good cholesterol’ can help remove LDLs. Although high cholesterol levels can lead to long-term health problems, the balance between LDLs and HDLs is also important. While people are more likely to develop high cholesterol as they age, there are certain habits which can increase this risk. According to the Stroke Foundation , lifestyle choices that increase the risk for high cholesterol include:
- Eating too much saturated fats
- Not eating enough vegetables and fruit
- Not being regularly physically active
- Being overweight or obese
- Consuming too much alcohol
High Cholesterol FoodsHaving a diet with high levels of saturated fats can lead to high cholesterol. Certain foods that can contain higher levels of fat should be reduced in favour of healthier options instead. Below will be a list of high cholesterol foods which should be controlled (especially if you are at high risk). Make sure to consult a qualified dietician or nutritionist about meal planning and advice.
- Animal fats
- Fatty meats (e.g. pork belly, beef short ribs, etc.)
- Processed meats (e.g. ham, salami, etc.)
- Desserts (e.g. cakes, biscuits, etc.)
- Fried foods
Tests and DiagnosisIf you are at a high risk of developing dyslipidaemia, your GP may ask you to perform a blood test to look at your lipid profile. After taking a sample of your blood, it will be taken to a laboratory for analysis. A breakdown of the levels of fat and cholesterol of your blood can be seen in your lipid profile. Your GP will let you know your results and whether you may have dyslipidaemia or high cholesterol levels.
High Cholesterol TreatmentsIf your blood test shows that you have an imbalance or high cholesterol levels, your GP will recommend treatments that may help correct it. Recommendations may be made based on your circumstances, such as your general health, family history of any conditions and response to previous treatments. Regular check ups may be required to monitor your cholesterol levels.
Lifestyle ModificationsChanges to lifestyle choices and habits remains one of the most important treatments for managing cholesterol problems. Active discussions with your GP is helpful for creating a plan that is sustainable and practical. Recommendations to other health professionals, such as a dietitian, exercise physiologists and counselors may also be another viable strategy. Examples of important lifestyle changes that can made to control your cholesterol levels, include :
- Regular physical activity and exercise
- Eat less saturated fats and refined carbohydrates (e.g. biscuits, pastries, rice, etc.)
- Eating a healthier diet (e.g. Mediterranean diet, etc.)
- Controlling your weight, especially if you’re overweight or obese
- Stop smoking
- Restrict your alcohol consumption
High Cholesterol MedicationYour GP may also start you on medications that have been made to help control your cholesterol levels and prevent long-term conditions (e.g. heart disease, stroke, etc.) . Statins are a common type of medications prescribed by doctors. They help the liver clear and reduce the production of cholesterol within the body. However, other medications may also be recommended by your doctor depending on your circumstances. Regular follow-ups with your GP may be required to make sure that the treatment is working and tolerable.
RecoveryAs the early stages of dyslipidaemia have little or not symptoms, controlling your cholesterol levels may not have an immediate effect. However, it can help reduce the risk of developing long-term conditions and improve your quality of life. Simple lifestyle strategies  and medications  can help significantly control your cholesterol levels. However, it’s important to keep in contact with your GP to monitor your progress.
ComplicationsIf dyslipidaemia or high cholesterol levels are not managed appropriately or early, it can lead to long-term and life-threatening complications, including:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart failure, strokes, arrhythmias, etc.)
- Peripheral artery disease
- Erectile dysfunction (impotence)
- Kidney disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
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