Condition: High Cholesterol

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What is high cholesterol?

High cholesterol are when cholesterol levels are higher than expected in the blood. There are different types of cholesterol particles, with the three most commonly reported types being:

  • LDL (low density lipoprotein), commonly known as “bad” cholesterol
  • HDL (high density lipoprotein), commonly known as “good” cholesterol
  • Triglycerides

When one or more of these is at higher levels than expected, this is known as high cholesterol.

What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?

Typically, high cholesterol does not cause any symptoms directly and is usually diagnosed on blood tests. However, the consequences of untreated high cholesterol are coronary artery disease,  which can then lead to chest pain and other symptoms of heart disease and stroke. Occasionally, high cholesterol can show up as changes to your skin, such as yellow marks around the eyelids.

What are the causes of high cholesterol?

High cholesterol can be due to a combination of genetic, medical or lifestyle factors. A common genetic condition known as familial hypercholesterolaemia leads to very high cholesterol and a familial history of early heart disease or stroke. Identifying this condition is essential to prevent these illnesses from occurring.

Certain medical problems such as diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, thyroid disease, and even some medications can lead to high cholesterol. Managing these will usually improve your cholesterol levels.

Finally, lifestyle factors such as particular diets or increased weight gain and alcohol consumption can also be linked to high cholesterol.

What are the risks of high cholesterol?

High levels of LDL cholesterol can increase the likelihood of coronary artery disease, with plaque or “furring” building up in your arteries. If severe, this could lead to a heart attack, angina, stroke, or peripheral arterial disease. Very high triglyceride levels carry a different risk of a life-threatening condition called acute pancreatitis.

Diagnosing high cholesterol

High cholesterol is typically diagnosed by a simple blood test. The test does not have to be performed while fasting, but it is helpful to fast for 8 hours prior to the test if there are any concerns about high triglyceride levels. The decision to treat high cholesterol is dependent on other factors like overall heart or stroke risk, and whether any other conditions have been treated or modified first. 

How do we treat high cholesterol?

Treatment of high cholesterol among otherwise healthy people typically involves looking for and then addressing any underlying causes that could be contributing to these levels. Thereafter, lifestyle changes may be tried for around 3 months, during which time dietary modifications, exercise, alcohol reduction and weight management treatments are all pursued. Some supplements such as plant stanols and sterols can also help lower cholesterol by a modest amount.

Importantly, if someone already has heart disease or stroke, then cholesterol-lowering medications are usually advised without delay to offer the best protection against further heart attacks or strokes. 

Where medications are needed, options typically include:

  • Statins: These are widely prescribed medications that lower cholesterol and heart disease risk at the same time. They are safe and effective and widely recommended in national guidelines for prevention of heart disease or to stop the progression of existing heart disease. Typically, a statin will reduce LDL-cholesterol levels by 30-50%.

  • Ezetimibe: This is a non-statin medication that is used when statins alone are not enough to lower cholesterol levels, or where statins are not tolerated. They are less potent than statins, but still effective and lower LDL cholesterol by around 20%.

  • Bempedoic Acid: A recently developed medication, bempedoic acid is used for people unable to take a statin due to side effects. It can be used on its own or be combined with ezetimibe, and comes as a combination pill.

  • PCSK9 inhibitors: These injectable treatments target a protein produced by the liver, which is designated PCSK9. This procedure leads to dramatically lowered LDL cholesterol levels. They are very potent and can lower cholesterol by as much as 60% by themselves. They are usually used in those unable to take statins or cannot tolerate them. There are two types of PCSK9 inhibitors and both are available through OneWelbeck Heart Health after consultation with one of our specialists:

    • Monoclonal antibodies: These are self-administered every two or four weeks. 

    • Inclisiran: This is a treatment that is given as an injection by a nurse every six months. 

  • Omacor and Vaskepa: These are high-strength fish oils that can help lower triglyceride levels. Vaskepa is a new drug that has been shown to have benefits for patients who have high triglycerides and heart disease.

  • Fibrates: These are relatively older drugs that are mainly used to treat high triglyceride levels, often taken in combination with statins.

If you are concerned about your cholesterol levels, or you would like to explore some of our other cholesterol-lowering treatments, please get in touch for a consultation with one of our specialists.

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Jul 2024


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