Cholesterol is a type of lipid, or fat, that your body needs to function. Certain types of cholesterol can build up in the arteries. This is called having “high cholesterol.” High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. If you have had a high cholesterol reading, you might want to know how best to protect your heart health. You might also wonder whether you should see a cardiologist. Learn more below!
What is high cholesterol?
Sometimes called hyperlipidemia or hypercholesterolemia, high cholesterol occurs when your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) rises above 100. LDL cholesterol is the type of fat that can build up in your arteries, increasing your risk for heart disease including heart attack and stroke.
The other type of cholesterol, called HDL or “good” cholesterol, helps manage bad cholesterol. This type of cholesterol helps carry all types of cholesterol to your liver. The liver processes and then filters out unneeded cholesterol. Your body passes unneeded cholesterol through the stool. If your HDL cholesterol is below 60, you may also be at risk for developing blocked arteries and heart disease.
Are there symptoms of high cholesterol?
High cholesterol has no symptoms. That’s why it’s important to keep an annual appointment with your primary care physician. They can run a panel and check your cholesterol levels.
If you have higher risk of heart disease, either through secondary conditions or family history, you can also receive screening through our Primary Prevention program. This is designed for people who are healthy but are concerned about their risks of developing heart disease.
What causes high cholesterol?
High cholesterol is caused by a combination of factors, some you can control and others you can’t control. Some people can bring their cholesterol back into normal range by changing their lifestyle, especially through a cardioprotective diet and exercise routine. Other people may have certain conditions or genetic factors that make their cholesterol run high regardless of what they do.
Factors in your control:
- Inactivity and too little exercise
- A diet that is too high in saturated fats or too low in fiber
- Excessive drinking
Factors outside your control:
- Your age
- Family history or your genetic makeup
- Other medical conditions that impact cholesterol levels, like chronic kidney disease, PCOS, diabetes, hypothyroidism, lupus or HIV
Certain medications also may raise your cholesterol levels. It’s important to vet the list of medications you’re taking with a doctor. There may be alternatives that don’t impact your heart health.
If you have high cholesterol, should you see a cardiologist?
Heart disease is very common, especially as people get older. It’s the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. When it comes to your heart health, it’s important to be proactive.
A primary care provider can order cardiac diagnostic tests that help you understand how your cholesterol score may be impacting your heart health. These tests include coronary calcium scoring and a more comprehensive lipid panel.
If family history or other factors have you concerned about your heart, contact our Center for Cardiovascular Prevention, Metabolism and Lipids. Our program is designed to monitor patients and provide them with unique treatment options, whether they are in the early stages of their heart health journey or they have had a cardiac event or a heart disease diagnosis. The program includes visits with a dietitian and wellness coach who can help develop a personalized nutrition and exercise plan to lower cholesterol.
What happens if your cholesterol won’t go down, even with lifestyle change and medication?
Some individuals still can’t achieve normal cholesterol readings even if they have tried lifestyle modifications and statin medications to lower cholesterol. While that is worrisome for all individuals, it’s especially critical for individuals who may have developed some form of heart or vascular disease or even suffered a cardiac event, like a heart attack or stroke.
But there are still options out there! Our Center for Cardiovascular Prevention, Metabolism and Lipids offers specialized infusions and ongoing monitoring through our Lipid Clinic. Learn more.
A standard lipid panel reports out your LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. If your cholesterol reading comes back high, other panels can detect whether other signs of heart disease are present.
Patients with high cholesterol may be referred for a coronary calcium scan. This noninvasive imaging procedure takes pictures of the heart’s arteries and detects calcium build-up in the important arteries. If your primary care provider doesn’t suggest a coronary calcium scan, you can always bring it up with them and ask for a referral.
Some patients’ cholesterol may return to normal ranges through lifestyle changes alone. This includes steps such as:
- Change your diet
- Eat fewer foods high in saturated fat and trans fats.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Eat more soluble fiber.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes daily.
- Quit smoking.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, or not at all.
Every person’s reaction to medication therapy for high cholesterol varies. Some may have excellent results with little-to-no side effects, while others may have to try different therapies to find the right option.
- Statins: These are usually prescribed as a first line of defense by a primary care provider. Some patients’ high cholesterol is resistant to statins or doesn’t respond well. Others may have side effects that prevent them from taking statins. In those cases, our Center for Cardiovascular Prevention, Metabolism and Lipids can offer alternatives that work.
- Injection or IV-based statin alternatives: For patients who have not reached target levels through statins and lifestyle changes, our Center for Cardiovascular Prevention, Metabolism and Lipids offers proven treatment via injection or IV infusion to lower cholesterol.
- Bempedoic acid: An FDA-approved alternative to statins taken in a pill, bempedoic acid lowers cholesterol while providing options for patients who have adverse side effects from statins.
The Center for Cardiovascular Prevention, Metabolism and Lipids brings together expertise from non-invasive cardiology, culinary medicine, wellness coaching, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and more to deliver a holistic and comprehensive experience. Contact us at 770-219-0960 for an appointment, or learn more about our program here.