Cholesterol is an essential substance that our body needs. However, too much of this substance can cause serious health problems. Read on to learn what cholesterol is, the difference between “good” and “bad” cholesterol, and the causes of high cholesterol. We will also discuss how often you should be screened and what can be done to treat levels of high cholesterol.

If you would like to know how you can take control of your cholesterol levels, contact Quality Primary Care in Rockville and Gaithersburg, Maryland. Our doctors are fully equipped to help reduce your cholesterol levels to a healthy level.

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What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that your body uses to make cell membranes, hormones, and vitamin D. The two main sources of cholesterol are the food we eat and the liver. The liver produces all the cholesterol your body needs.

Cholesterol and other fats are transported through your bloodstream by proteins. These come together to form a lipoprotein. The are two main types of lipoprotein:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol. As it transports cholesterol through your body, it can build up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol. It picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.

Too much LDL cholesterol in your blood can lead to the accumulation of fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Over time, these deposits reduce blood flow through your arteries. There is also a risk of these deposits breaking off to form a clot, which can cause a heart attack or stroke. On the other hand, high levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Causes of High Cholesterol

High cholesterol can be caused by several factors. An unhealthy lifestyle—including poor diet, inactivity, and obesity—can all contribute to harmful cholesterol and triglyceride levels. 

You may also have too much cholesterol because of your genetics. Your body may naturally find it difficult to remove LDL cholesterol from your blood or break it down in your liver.

High cholesterol could also be caused by medical conditions, which may include:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Lupus

Signs of High Cholesterol

There are no visible signs of high cholesterol. You will need to do a blood test to see if you’re developing high blood cholesterol levels.

Risks of Developing High Cholesterol

Risk factors that contribute to high cholesterol include the following:

  • Unhealthy diet: Consuming too much saturated fat or trans fats in your diet can result in unhealthy cholesterol levels. Fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy products are high in saturated fats. Packaged snacks and desserts often contain high amounts of trans fats.
  • Obesity: You are at a greater risk of having high cholesterol if your body mass index (BMI) is 30 or higher.
  • Lack of exercise: Exercise helps boost “good” HDL cholesterol production.
  • Smoking: Smoking tobacco products reduces the level of HDL—the “good” cholesterol.
  • Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can increase your total cholesterol level.
  • Age: When you reach over 40 years of age, your liver finds it more difficult to remove LDL cholesterol.

How Often Should You Get a Cholesterol Test?

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends that you should have your first cholesterol test between the ages of 9 and 11. You should repeat the test every 5 years after that.

When men reach between the ages of 45 and 65, the NHLBI suggests screening every one to two years. Women between the ages of 55 and 65 should also have a cholesterol test every one to two years.

You may need to increase the frequency of testing if your results are high or if you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure.

How is High Cholesterol Treated?

The team at Quality Primary Care takes an integrative approach to help you gain control over your cholesterol. We work closely with you to help you make the lifestyle changes needed to improve your numbers, which may include:

  • Diet modification
  • A personalized exercise program
  • Smoking cessation
  • Weight loss
  • Stress management
  • Nutritional supplements

If your cholesterol levels remain elevated after implementing lifestyle changes, the team may prescribe medications to help lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease.

Schedule an Appointment

Schedule an appointment now with one of our cholesterol experts. At Quality Primary Care, we offer a tailored approach to help lower your cholesterol levels so that you can continue living a healthy lifestyle.

Our offices can be found in Rockville and Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Contact us today!

Medically reviewed by Suresh Malik, MD