October 4, 2015

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High Cholesterol (Hyperlipidemia) FAQs

Reviewed by Charles P. Davis, MD, PhD

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Q:What is cholesterol?

A:A waxy, fatty substance in the blood. Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance found in the blood. Cholesterol is also present in every cell in the body including the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines, and heart.

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Q:Cholesterol in the body is produced by the liver. True or False?

A:True. Nearly 80% of the cholesterol in our bodies is produced by the liver, which produces all of the cholesterol the body needs. The remainder of cholesterol in the body comes from food. Age and family history are factors that affect how much cholesterol is produced by the liver.

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Q:Most of the cholesterol in our diets comes from where?

A:Meat, poultry, fish, and dairy. Roughly 20% of the cholesterol in the body is obtained mainly from meat, poultry, fish, and dairy.

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Q:Cholesterol serves no purpose. True or False?

A:False. Cholesterol is necessary to support some bodily functions. The body uses cholesterol for hormone and vitamin D production. The body also uses cholesterol to produce acids that help digest fat. Moreover, cholesterol is an essential component of our individual cell membranes.

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Q:What are symptoms of high cholesterol?

A:High cholesterol is a risk factor for other diseases and conditions, but does not cause any symptoms itself. Because high cholesterol usually causes no signs or symptoms, most people don't even know that they have high cholesterol. Note: High cholesterol is a serious condition that is linked to other serious health problems such as heart disease and strokes.

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Q:Children do not have high cholesterol. True or False?

A:False. Anyone can have high cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, research proves that the process of cholesterol build-up may begin during childhood. Children with high cholesterol are predisposed to early coronary heart disease. High cholesterol in children goes largely undetected because parents are unaware that their children may be at risk, and health care professionals rarely check for high cholesterol in children.

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Q:What is plaque as it relates to cholesterol?

A:Cholesterol deposits, a build-up of "bad" cholesterol in arteries, and a combination of cholesterol, fat, and calcium. Cholesterol plaque consists mainly of cholesterol, fat, and calcium. Cholesterol plaques form when low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol is deposited onto the artery walls. Cholesterol deposits are a component of the plaques that cause narrowing and blockage of the arteries.

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Q:Everyone over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol checked how often?

A:Every 5 years. The National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines suggest that everyone 20 years of age and older should have their blood cholesterol level measured at least once every 5 years.

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Q:Heart attack and stroke are similar events. True or False?

A:True. Heart attack and ischemic stroke are similar in that they both involve a blocked artery. A heart attack affects the heart muscle, and a stroke involves an arterial blockage within the brain.

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Q:Medications that lower cholesterol are called statins. True or False?

A:True. Statins are a class of drugs that lower cholesterol levels by slowing the production of cholesterol, and by increasing the liver's ability to remove the "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) in the blood. Statins lower LDL cholesterol levels more effectively than other types of drugs. They also modestly increase "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) and decrease total cholesterol and triglycerides.

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Q:There is little that can be done to control high cholesterol. True or False?

A:False. Controlling high cholesterol is a lifelong commitment. Important first steps include eating a healthy diet low in saturated fats, routine exercise, weight loss, and avoiding or quitting smoking. If these lifestyle changes fail to lower cholesterol levels (below 200 mg dL), most doctors will recommend a medication to lower cholesterol.

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