Food has been a major source of joy and comfort for a lot of people, especially during quarantine and the holidays. Though eating like a king may be a pleasant experience for you, it may not be the same for your body. According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, from 2015 to 2016, 12.4% of American adults had high total cholesterol, particularly in those aged 40-59 years old. However, elevated levels may occur to anyone at any age. That said, knowing what cholesterol is and how to treat it is important.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the body that is essential in producing healthy cells. It is normally present in the body and is healthy but only when you have the right kind and in healthy quantities. Elevated levels of cholesterol can cause a build-up of fat deposits (plaques) in blood vessels that increases the risk for cardiovascular diseases. These fat deposits can narrow down blood vessels hindering good blood flow. In some cases, they may even break away and cause blood clots.
Here are several risk factors for elevated cholesterol levels:
- Genetics (hereditary)
- Unhealthy diet and lack of exercise
- Other pre-existing medical conditions
Types of Cholesterol and Lipoproteins
Cholesterol is carried around the body by attaching to proteins called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins are classified into:
- Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)- is considered as ‘BAD’ cholesterol because it builds up in arteries and causes plaques. Soaring levels of LDL can put a person at risk of heart disease and complications.
- High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)- is called ‘GOOD’ cholesterol because it handles picking up the excess amount and carrying it back to the liver. In healthy individuals, elevated levels of HDL lower the risk for cardiovascular problems.
- Triglycerides - Come from oils and fats eaten; these are excess calories stored for later.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Usually, high levels of LDL do not manifest any symptoms, which means you may feel ‘healthy’ despite having it. A blood test called a lipid or lipoprotein panel is the only way to detect levels of cholesterol in the body. A lipid panel measures the levels of total cholesterol, HDL, and LDL, as well as other lipids such as Triglycerides. All lipids measured should fall within the healthy range based on age and gender. The frequency of testing would highly depend on age, risk factors, and family history of cardiovascular diseases. If left undiagnosed or untreated, high blood cholesterol may put you at risk of complications and serious problems such as heart attack and stroke.
According to the mortality data by the National Center for Health Statistics, heart disease is the leading cause of death in Americans in 2018. Serious cardiovascular problems may arise from unhealthy levels of cholesterol such as but not limited to:
- Coronary Heart Disease - is a condition in which the blood supply to the heart is heavily restricted due to plaque.
- Heart attack - when plaques rupture, they may cause clots that may lead to heart attacks when blood flow to the heart is stopped.
- Stroke - this occurs when a clot stops blood flow to the brain.
Treatment and Management
Leading a healthier lifestyle with regular visits to your doctor will do wonders at keeping unhealthy levels of cholesterol at bay. However, at some point, lifestyle changes are not enough to lower its levels. When this happens, medications may be prescribed.
Cholesterol-Lowering Prescription Drugs
Statins are a group of drugs most commonly prescribed for lowering cholesterol. In most cases, they are considered the most effective agent in lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes. They work by blocking HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme that the liver uses to produce cholesterol. Statins also improve the lining of blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and prevent clots due to plaque break off. Statins are beneficial in preventing coronary heart disease and those with a history of heart problems but these drugs cannot be taken by pregnant women, and people with liver problems. Muscle issues are a common side effect but are usually mild and go away quickly.
Some examples of Statins are:
- Atorvastatin (Lipitor®)
- Rosuvastatin Calcium (Crestor®)
- Lovastatin (Mevacor®)
- Fluvastatin (Lescol®)
- Pravastatin (Pravachol®)
- Simvastatin (Zocor®)
Selective Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors
These drugs work by preventing the absorption of dietary cholesterol through the intestines without affecting the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients and triglycerides. These drugs are next in line to Statins in treating high cholesterol. Common side effects include stomach pains and muscle soreness.
One of the most popular selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors is Ezetimibe (Zetia®, Ezetrol®).
Bile Acid Sequestrants
Bile acid sequestrants, also known as Acid-binding agents, are a group of drugs that causes the intestines to eliminate dietary cholesterol by attaching to bile. Bile is a digestive substance that binds to fat or cholesterol to facilitate absorption into the body. Due to its action on the gastrointestinal tract, constipation, hyperacidity, and other similar issues may be experienced.
Some examples of bile acid sequestrants are:
- Cholestyramine (Questran®)
- Colestipol (Colestid®)
- Colesevelam HCl (WelChol®)
Fibrates, also called Fibric acid derivatives, are a group of drugs that work on lowering triglyceride levels in the blood. They also show effectiveness in increasing good cholesterol and lowering bad cholesterol.
Some examples of fibrates are:
- Gemfibrozil (Lopid®)
- Fenofibrate (Lofibra®, Tricor®)
In conclusion, there are several options in treating and managing your cholesterol levels. It is important to take charge of your lifestyle and schedule regular checkups with your doctor. Detecting and treating unhealthy cholesterol levels early is crucial in preventing serious complications in the future. Talk to your doctor to determine which prescription drug is the best choice for your high cholesterol levels. For your prescription drugs that lower cholesterol, visit us online at the Canadian Prescription Drugstore. We have a wide range of brand and generic options at very affordable prices. We are sure you will find just what you need!