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Cholesterol is a waxy substance. Your body needs it to build cells, to insulate nerves, and to produce certain hormones. But having too much cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

High cholesterol does not cause symptoms. But over a period of time, it will lead to build-up of thick and hardened deposits called plaques in your arteries. Plaques narrow the space available for blood flow. Your heart may not get as much oxygen- rich blood as it needs, which increases the risk of a heart attack. Decreased blood flow to your brain can cause a stroke.

Most of the cholesterol in your body is produced by the liver. The rest comes from foods such as poultry, meat and dairy products.

There are different types of  cholesterol:

  • Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterol: known as “bad” cholesterol as it raises your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
  • High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol: known as “good” cholesterol as it is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

High cholesterol can be inherited, but it's often the result of unhealthy lifestyle.

Factors that may increase your blood cholesterol level are:

  • Being inactive. Not exercising may lower HDL ("good") cholesterol.
  • Smoking.  Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them likely to accumulate fatty deposits. Smoking may also lower your level of HDL, or "good" cholesterol.
  • Family history. If family members have or had high cholesterol, you may have it too.
  • Diabetes. High blood sugar increases LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL cholesterol. High blood sugar also damages the lining of your arteries.
  • Unhealthy diet. Eating too much saturated fat, trans-fat, and cholesterol can raise your cholesterol level.
  • Obesity. This may increase LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol.

Lifestyle changes which can help:

  • Eat less food with high trans fats and saturated fats
  • Increase dietary fibre intake
  • Regular exercise
  • Maintain a healthy body weight

If you already have plaques in your arteries, or your risk of having heart disease or stroke is very high, your doctor will normally recommend treatment with medications. ‘Statin’ is the medication most commonly used. Over the last 30-40 years, many studies involving thousands of patients have proven the effectiveness of statin in lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke in certain individuals.

Credits:

Dr. Chong Wei Peng

Consultant Cardiologist, Gleneagles Kuala Lumpur

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