Many people don’t know that they have high levels of harmful cholesterol. That’s because there are usually no signs or symptoms associated with an early buildup of fatty plaques in the arteries.
Plaque is made up of cholesterol, fat and other substances. It’s not until there may be a large blockage of the artery that you might notice something is wrong. For example, you may have chest pain, pain in the arms or jaw, nausea, sweating, or shortness of breath. These usually occur when the blood supply to the heart or brain is being slowed or blocked.
Unfortunately, these blockages can rupture and cause major problems, even when they are much smaller and without causing any early symptoms. That is why, for some people, the first sign of elevated cholesterol may be a heart attack or stroke.
So – even if you’re feeling fine – it’s a good idea to get your cholesterol checked. Your care team will consider your cholesterol numbers along with any other factors that make heart disease or stroke more likely to occur, such as your age, if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, of if you smoke.
What Increases Your Risk?
High LDL and total cholesterol are generally related to either conditions passed on in families (inherited) or poor lifestyle habits that include:
- Eating unhealthy fats and simple carbohydrates
- Not exercising regularly
- Being overweight or obese
In addition, you have a greater chance of heart disease or a stroke if you have:
- High blood pressure
- Family history of early heart disease
- Active smoking
- Low HDL-cholesterol levels (also called the “good” cholesterol)
- Or if you are Black or African American.