High cholesterol, or hypercholesterolemia, is a condition in which there are high levels of cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol is a thick, fat-like substance made by our body, mainly in the liver. We also get cholesterol from some of the foods we eat, such as egg yolks, meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. Our bodies needs cholesterol, but too much may cause health problems. Too much cholesterol may stick to the sides of arteries (the blood vessels which carry oxygen rich blood to every part of our body). As more cholesterol builds up, a mass of cholesterol and other substances that circulate in our blood form plaques or clumps on the wall of the artery. As the plaque builds, the arteries become narrow and stiff (also known as atherosclerosis). Decreased flow of oxygen to the heart may cause angina (chest pain) or a heart attack. Decreased oxygen flow to the legs may cause leg pain or peripheral artery disease. Sometimes a plaque ruptures, and the blood clot that forms to stop the bleeding blocks the artery completely leading to a heart attack or stroke, depending on the artery affected.
There are often no symptoms in the early stages of high cholesterol. The best way to find out if you have high cholesterol is to have a lipid panel/lipid profile blood test. Risk factors associated with high cholesterol include: family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, poor diet, and lack of exercise. Certain types of high cholesterol may run in families. Treatment to lower cholesterol levels may include exercise, eating food low in cholesterol, and medication. Sometimes surgery may be needed. Early diagnosis and treatment have been shown to improve the health of individuals affected by high cholesterol. Talk with your doctor about the latest treatments to decide which options are the best for you.