“Many people do not realise they are at risk of high cholesterol because it usually has no symptoms until it has progressed to become more serious”, said pharmacist Themba Muhlarhi of Medipost Pharmacy. This is why it’s important for patients to have their cholesterol tested regularly.
“Some people may have a condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia, a genetic condition reducing the body’s ability to remove low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is sometimes referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, even if the person is extremely careful with their diet,” he explained.
“Children too can have high cholesterol and should be tested particularly if there is a family risk. If one of your parents has the condition, your chance of inheriting it is 50/50. If you have familial hypercholesterolaemia, any of your children also have a one in two chance of being diagnosed.
“As we get older it is advisable for everyone to test more regularly, up to once a year from the age of 45 for men and from 55 for women,” Muhlarhi said.
- Family history
- Being overweight
- Usually more likely as we age.
WHY IS HIGH CHOLESTEROL DANGEROUS?
“Excess LDL cholesterol in our blood can become stuck together with calcium, minerals, and other substances to form a plaque that lines the arteries. As well as narrowing the arteries, pieces of this plaque can break off and a blood clot could form in an attempt to heal the artery wall,” said Muhlarhi.
If the blood clot becomes so large that it restricts the blood flow or breaks off and lodges elsewhere in the body, it can be very serious and potentially fatal. This is what causes heart attacks and strokes, as well as chest pains known as angina.
“When high cholesterol cannot be managed with diet, exercise, and other lifestyle modifications, oral medication may be necessary in combination with a healthy lifestyle including a diet that is low in saturated and trans fats, with plenty of physical exercise. This can be an opportunity to substantially reduce your risk for associated life-threatening conditions.”
Depending on whether a person has already developed cardiovascular disease or a co-existing condition such as diabetes, a patient’s treating doctor will prescribe medication to help improve the healthy balance of cholesterol in their body.
The seriousness of high cholesterol should not be underestimated, even when patients are on medication,” warned Muhlarhi. “A significant part of the treatment involves reducing unhealthy foods while increasing exercise to give you the best possible chance of good long-term health.”