High cholesterol can significantly increase the risks of heart attack, heart disease, and stroke. As a top-rated cardiologist in New York City, Dr. Jeffrey Graf helps patients from throughout Manhattan manage their cholesterol levels so they can improve their health and avoid serious complications.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the body and derived from certain foods that aids in metabolism and other functions. A certain level of cholesterol is necessary for optimal health and function. But sometimes, cholesterol levels can become excessive, building up in the blood and sticking to the walls of blood vessels, forming sticky plaques that narrow the blood vessels and impeded blood flow. Cholesterol is often divided into two types: LDL (low-density lipoproteins) or “bad” cholesterol that's associated with sticky plaques, and HDL (high-density lipoproteins) or “good” cholesterol that can actually help prevent plaques from forming. Despite the “good” and “bad” connotations, the body needs healthy levels of each for normal function and good health. High cholesterol, or high levels of LDL, is more common than low levels of HDL. High cholesterol is more common among smokers, people who are overweight or obese, those who eat a diet high in unhealthy fats, and people who have a family history of the condition. High cholesterol also becomes more common with older age.
Both HDL and LDL (and a related substance called triglycerides) can be easily measured with a simple blood test. Routine cholesterol screenings are typically performed for annual physical exams.
High cholesterol has been associated with an increased risk for heart attacks, heart disease, strokes, peripheral artery disease, high blood pressure and even dementia. Many people with high cholesterol have atherosclerosis (“hardening” of the arteries) that makes it difficult for the heart to get enough oxygen, resulting in a type of recurrent chest pain called angina.
High cholesterol is treated with lifestyle changes like eating a diet low in unhealthy fats and high in fiber, being more physically active and losing excess weight, combined with medications designed to keep levels of LDL under control. Routine office visits and blood tests help keep medication dosing optimized for each patient's needs.