Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a type of
heart disease caused by narrowing of the blood vessels that bring blood to the
heart. High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for CHD. The
higher your cholesterol, the greater your risk for developing
heart disease or having a heart attack.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in all cells of the body. It is
needed by the body for cell development and is also used to make hormones and
other substances that help to digest food. The most important types of
cholesterol that affect your heart are high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or
“good” cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad”
cholesterol. Triglycerides, other fat-like substances in your blood, are also
The Role of cholesterol in CHD
As LDL cholesterol and triglycerides accumulate in blood vessels, they form
plaques (fatty build-up in the blood vessels). If a plaque ruptures, a clot can
form and can slow or even stop blood flow to the heart. If blood flow to the
heart is slowed or blocked, this can lead to angina (chest pain) or a heart
attack. Lowering your LDL cholesterol levels decrease your chance for having a
plaque rupture and causing a heart attack. Lowering LDL cholesterol may also
slow down, reduce, and even stop plaque from building up. Increasing HDL
cholesterol helps reduce risk as well. HDL cholesterol circulates in the blood
and helps pick up LDL cholesterol and take it back to the liver for processing.
If your cholesterol levels are not where they should
be, work with your doctor to set a goal for yourself. The main purpose of
cholesterol-lowering treatment is to lower your LDL enough to reduce your risk
of developing heart disease or having a heart attack. Your doctor may suggest
lifestyle changes, drug treatment, or both.
Lifestyle changes that may help you reach your cholesterol goal include: eating
foods low in fat and cholesterol, losing weight if needed, and exercising
regularly. Unfortunately, genetics also play a role, and despite good diets and
exercise, some people still have elevated cholesterol.
There are a variety of medicines available to treat
high cholesterol. Some of the most common types of medications include:
- HMG-CoA reductase
- Nicotinic acid (niacin)
- Bile acid sequestrants
- Cholesterol-absorption inhibitors
If your doctor recommends medicine to lower
your cholesterol, be sure to continue lifestyle changes as part of your overall
How you can help
While there are risk factors you cannot change (such
as your age and sex), there are many steps you can take to improve the health
of your heart and blood vessels.
- Don't smoke, and if you do smoke, make an action plan to quit.
- Change your diet. Certain foods have types of fat that raise your
cholesterol. Try to limit foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol (for
example, egg yolks, meat, and cheese). Talk to your doctor before changing
your eating habits.
- Lose weight. Extra weight can raise cholesterol levels. Losing
weight can help lower LDL-cholesterol.
- If you have diabetes, follow your doctor's advice and keep your
sugar under control
- Become more physically active. Regular exercise can help you lose
weight, lower your LDL, and raise your HDL level. Talk to your doctor
before starting any type of exercise routine.
- Take your medicine. If you have been prescribed medicine to help
manage your cholesterol, it is important to remember that this medicine
does not “cure” high blood cholesterol. Therefore, you must
continue taking your medicine to keep your cholesterol at the level
recommended by your doctor.
- See your doctor regularly. It is important that your doctor check
your cholesterol levels regularly. With regular checkups, your doctor can
evaluate your condition and adjust your treatment as needed so you get the
full benefit of your therapy.
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