Dr. Mukesh Goel, Senior cardiac surgeon at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals
The heart is an essential organ of the human body. But several conditions can affect the functioning of the heart. High blood pressure, unhealthy body weight, a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to a high risk of heart disease. One of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease is high cholesterol levels in the blood.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that may deposit inside the arteries blocking the free-flow of blood. It affects not only the heart but other body parts as well. Unhealthy eating habits, lack of physical activity, smoking, age, family history, and unhealthy body weight and high cholesterol levels are some causes behind the high risk of heart disease.
Timely diagnosis and treatment can help control the risks associated with heart disease. Cholesterol screenings at the right time are one of the main factors to prevent the development of heart disease.
The issue is, what is the right time to get cholesterol screenings done? What is the significance of cholesterol screenings? How often should get yourself screened? We have got all these covered in this article. Read here to know more:
What is a cholesterol test?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in the blood and every cell of our body. We need some amount of cholesterol to keep our cells and organs healthy. Our liver makes all the cholesterol the body needs. But you can also get cholesterol from the food you eat, especially meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy products. Foods that are high in dietary fat can also make the liver produce more cholesterol.
There are two main types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol. A cholesterol test is a blood test that measures the amount of each type of cholesterol and certain fats in the blood.
Too much LDL cholesterol in the blood may put you at risk for heart disease and other serious conditions. High LDL levels can cause the build-up of a plaque (shelf-like protrusion into the lumen of blood vessel consisting of cholesterol and calcium) that narrows the arteries and blocks blood from flowing normally.
When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can cause a heart attack. When blood flow to the brain is blocked, it can lead to stroke and can cause gangrene of the leg by blocking flow in the peripheral arteries of the legs. Other names for a cholesterol test: Lipid profile, Lipid panel
Why cholesterol screenings are important?
High cholesterol leads to plaque build-up in the coronary arteries putting a person at high risk for heart disease. High cholesterol leading to plaque build-up in the coronary arteries does not cause symptoms until the plaque causes significant luminal obstruction of the coronary arteries leading to chest pain and heart attack.
Hence, it becomes very essential to get the cholesterol screenings done to get it treated early to negate this plaque build-up in the coronary arteries which would otherwise lead to detrimental outcomes. Regular cholesterol screenings can help control the risk of heart disease on time.
A cholesterol test can give the health care provider important information about the cholesterol levels in the blood. The test measures:
- LDL levels. Also known as the “bad” cholesterol, LDL is the main source of blockages in the arteries.
- HDL levels. Considered the “good” cholesterol, HDL helps get rid of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
- Total cholesterol. The combined amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in the blood.
- Triglycerides A type of fat found in the blood. According to some studies, high levels of triglycerides may increase the risk of heart disease, especially in women.
- VLDL levels. Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) is another type of “bad” cholesterol. The development of plaque on the arteries has been linked to high VLDL levels. It’s not easy to measure VLDL, so most of the time these levels are estimated based on triglyceride measurements.
What should be the Frequency of Cholesterol Screenings?
It is recommended that all adults 20 Years and older should get measured their cholesterol and other traditional risk factors for heart disease checked every 4-6 years.
After the age of 40, the doctor would also want to use equations to calculate the the10-year risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event/disease rand depending on the 10-year risk profile results decide on the frequency of further cholesterol screening.
Patients with established cardiovascular disease (those who have already suffered a heart attack, undergone angioplasty or coronary bypass surgery), those with diabetes or a family history of heart disease would be advised by their doctors to undergo cholesterol screenings much more frequently to target the LDL cholesterol.
Healthy lifestyle interventions including exercise, a healthy diet (with foods low in saturated fats), and the use of medications if suggested by the doctor can help prevent bad cholesterol levels to rise and boost heart health.
Why cholesterol test is needed?
The doctor may order a cholesterol test as part of a routine exam, or if you have a family history of heart disease or one or more of the following risk factors:
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Excess weight or obesity
- Lack of physical activity
- A diet high in saturated fat
Age may also be a factor because the risk of heart disease increases as one gets older.
Who is at risk of a high risk of developing heart disease?
- Have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease
- Are overweight or obese
- Drink alcohol frequently
- Smoke cigarettes
- Lead an inactive lifestyle
- Have co-morbidities like diabetes, kidney disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, or an underactive thyroid gland
All of these things can increase the risk of developing high cholesterol.
What are the sources of cholesterol in the diet?
- Sweet treats and pastries such as donuts, cakes, and cookies
- Red meat, fatty meat, and highly processed meat
- Shortening, lard, tallow
- Many fried foods
- Whole-fat dairy products such as milk, butter, cheese, and cream
These high-cholesterol foods, along with processed and fast foods, can contribute to weight gain and obesity. Being overweight or obese raises the risk of heart disease as well as other health conditions.
What are the healthier options?
These foods may help lower LDL, raise HDL, and manage the weight:
- Oats and oat bran
- Barley and other whole grains
- Beans and lentils including navy, kidney, garbanzo, and black-eyed peas
- Nuts, including walnuts, peanuts, and almonds
- Citrus fruits, apples, strawberries, and grapes
- Okra and eggplant
- Fatty fish such as sardines, mackerel, and salmon
- Olive oil