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Disease Summary

Cholesterol is an important part of your cells functioning properly and also serves as the building block of some hormones. The liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs, but cholesterol also enters your body from dietary sources, such as animal-based foods like milk, eggs, meat. Too much cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk of coronary artery disease. A surplus of cholesterol (Hypercholesterolemia) can cause plaque to build up in your arteries and make it hard for blood to get to your heart or brain. If the blood supply is completely blocked, you are at high risk for a heart attack or a stroke to the brain. A variety of factors including genetic, diet, and lifestyle can contribute to high cholesterol levels.

It has been estimated that approximately 73.5 million adults in the United States have high LDL, yet fewer than 1 out of every 3 have the condition under control. People with high total cholesterol have approximately twice the risk for heart disease that may lead to heart attack or stroke as people with ideal levels.

The first line of treatment for abnormal cholesterol is usually lifestyle changes, including aerobic exercise, weight loss in overweight patients, and eating a healthy diet. For some people, these changes alone are not enough to lower the blood cholesterol levels; they may also need medicine to bring down their cholesterol to a safe level.

Understanding Cholesterol Numbers

There are different types of cholesterol that make up the total cholesterol level: LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. It’s important to lower the “bad” cholesterol (LDL, and triglycerides) which your body stores in fat cells and to raise your “good” cholesterol (HDL) as this helps get rid of the bad cholesterol.

LDL Cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries around your heart and increase the chances of you having heart disease. That’s why LDL cholesterol is referred to as “bad” cholesterol. The lower your LDL cholesterol number is, the lower your risk for heart disease. If your LDL is 190 or more, it is said to be very high. Statins are medications that help lower cholesterol levels.

HDL protects against heart disease. HDL Cholesterol is called the “good cholesterol” because a higher number means a lower risk for heart disease. HDL takes the “bad” cholesterol out of your blood and keeps it from building up in your arteries. A statin (Cholesterol lowering medication) can slightly increase your HDL, as can exercise.

Triglycerides are found in foods and also found in the body. Having a high triglyceride level puts you at a greater risk of having coronary artery disease.

Cholesterol levels should be checked at least once every five years for people who are over 20 years old and have no trouble with their cholesterol levels. For people who have elevated cholesterol numbers, much more frequent testing is needed to ensure everything possible is being done to lower that number to a safe range. While certain cholesterol numbers may be considered optimal, goals may be different for every patient depending on their risk factors and should be discussed with a healthcare provider. Your overall risk of heart disease will be based on a number of factors including age, blood pressure, genetic history, smoking history, and comorbid conditions (such as diabetes or history of stroke or heart attack).

Common symptoms of high cholesterol

High cholesterol generally has no symptoms and can only be diagnosed by medical professionals based on lab results of lipid counts in your blood. Although you will not experience symptoms, having high cholesterol greatly increases your risk of heart disease which may lead to heart attacks, strokes, peripheral artery disease. Because high cholesterol is a “silent disease”, when taking medication to treat it, you will not feel any obvious improvements in your health. Nevertheless, medication should never be stopped unless the decision is made with a healthcare professional.