“High cholesterol levels” has been the buzz word for quite some time now. And did you know, 55.4% is the percentage of elderly people in Malaysia having high cholesterol level. It certainly sounds scary when among two old people, one of them has hypercholesterolemia, which is the term used for high cholesterol in the blood. Every once in a while we do a blood test and find out the result for the row of cholesterol level is being highlighted boldly, and we start to panic and plan to have a clean diet, frequent exercise and sleep early, but that does not last more than a month time. So, do you actually know the effects of high cholesterol to our body, our future?
What. When. How.
Cholesterol is one of the classes of lipid that we can obtain from our diet or produced by our own body. Bet you do not want to read a long list of food with high cholesterol, so here are a few examples: seafood, cheese burger, cheese and macaroni, icecream, steak, liver and snack.
Even by the mention of the food makes all of us drool. The basic thing to know about cholesterol is that it is divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol. The ‘bad’ cholesterol, also known as LDL cholesterol, if in excess, will eventually form a plaque around the inner wall of your blood vessels, reducing the diameter, so less blood flow is allowed to go through that tunnel (blood vessel). While on the other hand, the ‘good’ cholesterol or HDL cholesterol, helps to move our ‘bad’ one to the liver and get rid out of our system.
It is a progressive condition where the cholesterol gets attached on the vessel wall and as time goes by, it becomes larger in size and eventually obstructs the vessel. Want to know why do some people develop stroke? This is because the vessels involved are in the brain. The brain does not receive blood enough to function properly due to the obstruction, thus stroke happens. The person can not smile properly, or can not balance while walking, and these are all due to the obstruction of signals sent from the brain. The condition could be mild or severe, depends on the person’s condition too. If the vessels involved are in the heart, the person might get a heart attack. If the limbs are involved, the person might have numbness over the limb, which we call it claudication. This is a very serious matter people should take note of as this is an important cause of morbidity and mortality in these people.
How many points do you hit?
- Gender (higher risk in male due to hormonal protection in pre-menopausal women)
- Family history
- Physical inactivity
- Dietary factors (deficiency in fresh fruits, vegetables, polyunsaturated fats)
- Kidney disease
Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH)
You might wonder how some people are so thin yet they have hypercholesterolemia, after that you find out he/she has a family history of having the same problem. This condition can be due to genetic factor (genetic mutation). FH is the excessively high level of LDL cholesterol in the blood. However people need not worry about the genes as the interventions of lowering the cholesterol level are the same. Also, obese people might have high cholesterol level but people with hypercholesterolemia might not be obese.
What to watch out for?
- Xanthelasma (yellowish deposition of fat usually around eyelids)
Arcus senilis (whitish or silver discoloration of ring of cornea)
Xanthomas (back of the hand, around fingers or Achilles tendon)
Sudden chest pain (heart involved)
Calf pain when walking (limb involved)
Stroke symptoms – temporary loss of vision, dizziness, imbalance, severe headache, difficulty speaking, weakness, numbness or tingling sensation, usually one side of the body.
- Fun Fact: it is always left side in males and right side in females.
What can you do?
Well, you can:
- Arrange blood test once a year to detect cholesterol level.
- total cholesterol optimal level: below 200 mg/dL
- optimal LDL cholesterol level: 100-129mg/dL (lower in people with heart disease)
- optimal HDL cholesterol level: 60mg/dL or above
Go have a blood test and compare with your value. For more info on how and where you can do the blood test, check this
- Modify lifestyle. Be a little more active and you can make a difference!
- Control diet. Very frequently we see “No Trans Fat” printed on packages of food. Yes, that is the correct choice. Also, cholesterol lowering food like oatmeal, fish oil (omega-3 fatty acid), salmon, almond, avocados, fruits and vegetables are recommended.
- Take medication. (statins)
- Don’t smoke and drink. I mean, don’t smoke and don’t drink.
Remember, you are 100% in charge of your health. You are the one who decides your own future. Love yourself, love your family.
University of Maryland Medical Center
Yayasan Jantung Malaysia
by Angie Loh
A medical student with nothing but passion and a pen. Poems and novels never fail to make me feel alive. I'm inspired to make the world a better place and fill it with a little bit more love. But first, where's my coffee? View all articles by Angie Loh.