What are the early signs of high cholesterol levels? There is a need to recognize these signs because as you age, high cholesterol becomes a significant problem for a large portion of the adult populace.
In the US alone, 86 million adults over the age of 20 currently have high cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol is problematic because it can lead to a range of serious health issues, including stroke, angina, heart attack, coronary artery disease, and peripheral artery disease.
So, how can you determine whether you have high cholesterol and what can you do to prevent it? This article provides you with what you need to know to check early signs of high cholesterol.
Table of Contents
Early Signs of High Cholesterol – What is Cholesterol?
To fully understand what we mean by high levels of cholesterol, you first need to have some understanding of what we refer to as cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance naturally produced by the liver. It is not entirely bad. You need cholesterol for the formation of crucial substances like vitamin D, cell membranes, and even certain hormones.
Particles called lipoproteins are responsible for carrying cholesterol through the bloodstream, and the type of lipoprotein connected to the cholesterol determines whether it’s good or bad.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are known as “bad cholesterol”, as it tends to build up in the arteries and increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. This is one of the “internal” early signs of high cholesterol which does not have any easy to see physical symptoms.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL), on the other hand, are considered “good cholesterol”, as they help remove the LDL cholesterol from your system.
When do You have High Cholesterol?
You have high cholesterol when your LDL cholesterol levels are higher than what is deemed healthy by most medical professionals.
Ideally, your cholesterol should have an LDL level of less than 130, an HDL level of 60 or higher, and a total cholesterol level of less than 200. You also want your triglycerides (another form of fat in the blood) to be less than 150 mg/dl.
How to Catch Early Signs of High Cholesterol
Most healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years. Some people, such as those who have heart disease, diabetes, or a family history of high cholesterol, need to get their cholesterol checked more often
What Causes High Cholesterol?
High cholesterol can be caused by a number of different factors. There are certain genetic conditions which can cause higher cholesterol, called familial hypercholesterolemia. However, this is quite rare.
It is more likely that you end up with high cholesterol due to your diet. Eating foods with high levels of fat, specifically saturated fats, will increase the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood.
If the LDL cholesterol levels become too high and the HDL levels are too low, the fatty deposits in your blood will build up in the vessels and arteries.
Eventually, too much cholesterol makes it difficult for blood to easily flow through the arteries in your body. This is what causes problems for your brain and heart.
Are there Warning Signs of High Cholesterol?
Because there are no specific symptoms of high cholesterol until it is too late, the only way to know if your levels are too high is to check with a blood test.
This allows your doctor to measure your cholesterol levels and ensure you do not have a total blood cholesterol of more than 250 mg/DL. The 4 checks listed below are the ONLY way to catch early signs of high cholesterol – no other way!
Check 1 – Get a cholesterol test after you turn 20, and then
Check 2 – Get your cholesterol levels checked again every four to six years.
Check 3 – Get more regular cholesterol checks if you have high blood pressure, are overweight, or smoke.
Check 4 – If you have a number of people in your family with high cholesterol, you might also be advised to get more tests on a regular basis.
What Are The Effects of High Cholesterol?
Unfortunately, as previously stated, there are no early warning signs of high cholesterol levels to look out for because high cholesterol does not cause any symptoms until it is already too late.
In most cases, you will not even know that you have high cholesterol until you suffer a heart attack or a stroke, resulting in damage to your arteries.
These events occur when high cholesterol causes plaque formation which narrows the arteries throughout your body. This affects the normal flow of blood through the arteries.
Over time, plaque can cause changes to the structure of the lining in the arteries, leading to long term complications.
While symptoms may be absent, certain indicators such as fatty deposits under the skin or cholesterol deposits around the eyes may be visible although these are often overlooked until after a heart attack or stroke.
The most common signs of high cholesterol are:
Coronary artery disease: This includes angina (chest pain), fatigue, shortness of breath, jaw pain, and cold or numb sensations in the extremities.
Stroke: Sudden loss of coordination or balance, dizziness, facial asymmetry, inability to move, slurring, or confusion, sudden severe headaches.
Heart attack: Arteries supplying the heart with blood slowly become narrow and cause a build-up of plaque, blocking blood flow to the heart.
7 Lifestyle Choices to Prevent the Onset of High Cholesterol Levels
As previously stated, the AHA and other Health Associations recommends having your cholesterol levels checked at least every four to six years if you are over the age of 20. However, you may need to get more frequent checks if you are at a
Preventing early signs of high cholesterol levels involves adopting a healthy lifestyle. Here are some key lifestyle changes you can make to help manage and prevent high cholesterol:
Choose healthy fats by replacing saturated and trans fats with healthier fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Sources include olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
Boost Omega-3 Fatty Acids by including fatty fish (like salmon and mackerel), flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts in your diet as these are beneficial for heart health.
Eat more foods high in soluble fiber, such as oats, barley, beans, lentils, fruits, and vegetables, can help lower cholesterol levels.
Exercise helps raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Include strength training exercises at least two days a week.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Losing excess weight can help lower cholesterol levels. Even a modest weight loss can have a positive impact on cholesterol levels.
Smoking damages your blood vessels and lowers HDL cholesterol. Quitting smoking can improve your overall cardiovascular health.
Limit Alcohol Intake
While moderate alcohol consumption may have some heart benefits, excessive alcohol intake can raise cholesterol levels. Limit alcohol to moderate levels or avoid it altogether.
Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is important for overall health, including heart health.
Learn to Manage Stress
Chronic stress can contribute to unhealthy lifestyle habits. Practice stress-reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or hobbies to manage stress.
Limit Processed Foods
Processed foods often contain unhealthy fats and high levels of sodium. Limit your intake of processed and fried foods.
In some cases, lifestyle changes alone may not be sufficient, and medication may be prescribed by a healthcare professional. Adhere to any prescribed medications and attend regular follow-up appointments.
Also note that individual responses to lifestyle changes may vary. Consulting with a healthcare professional is necessary to assess your specific situation, determine your risk factors, and create a personalized plan for managing cholesterol levels.
Conclusion – Early Signs of High Cholesterol
Early signs of high cholesterol often go unnoticed as the condition typically presents no symptoms. Detecting high cholesterol usually relies on routine blood tests. Though symptoms may be absent, certain effects such as fatty deposits under the skin or cholesterol deposits around the eyes may be visible.
Elevated cholesterol levels contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, narrowing arteries and increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
It is necessary that cholesterol levels be regularly monitored through blood tests, especially for individuals with risk factors like a family history of heart disease, obesity, poor diet, or sedentary lifestyle.
Lifestyle modifications, including a healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking, are key in preventing and managing high cholesterol.
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CDC (2023) High Cholesterol Facts