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Signs and Symptoms of High Cholesterol in Adults

written by: weborglodge • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 5/27/2011

High cholesterol is a major factor in the leading cause of death in the United States. Heart disease took over 600,000 deaths in 2007. The signs of high cholesterol often go unnoticed, requiring you to take proactive measures to control your risk.

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    Causes

    cheeseburger saturated fat The medical community has warned Americans about the health risks associated with a diet high in saturated fats, a leading cause of atherosclerosis. High cholesterol causes a narrowing of the blood vessels that can reduce their flexibility and cause high blood pressure.

    Further complicating its effects is the fact that signs of high cholesterol in the early stages are unnoticeable. Unfortunately, many do not find out that they have a cholesterol problem until their condition becomes a life-threatening situation.

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    Biological Effects

    The effects occur internally. As cholesterol levels rise, plaque forms on the inner lining of blood vessels. The normal flexibility is replaced by a more rigid structure, hence the term, hardening of the arteries. High levels of LDL or bad cholesterol cause further constriction of blood vessels due to impairment of the mechanisms for the production of nitric oxide which relaxes veins and arteries.

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    Symptoms

    The health risks escalate with the formation of plaque. Plaque build-up may break off and clog arteries. If coronary arteries are blocked, a heart attack and heart tissue death occur. You may feel chest pain as your heart struggles to pump blood.

    If blockages occur within the brain, you will experience a variety of symptoms, depending upon which area of the brain is affected. You may have difficulty speaking or feel sudden weakness. These symptoms indicate a possible stroke.

    Arteries in the legs and arms may also be affected by high cholesterol. One of the signs for this condition may be difficulty in walking. In any case, recognizable symptoms such as these indicate a serious health condition that requires immediate medication intervention.

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    Reducing Your Risk

    When you detect the signs of high cholesterol, your condition has progressed to a serious level. To avoid getting to this point, you should have your cholesterol checked at least every five years after the age of 20. If you have risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease, you should check your cholesterol more often.

    Maintaining a normal weight and following a healthy diet are ways you can take control of your risk. While there are some factors you cannot control, you can follow a diet low in saturated fats to avoid the formation of plaque and increase your cholesterol level.

    Finally, if your doctor has prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications, take them as prescribed even if you are not experiencing symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one in two adults stop taking their cholesterol-lowering medications. High cholesterol is a serious health condition that requires continual monitoring. By following your doctor's recommendations, you can live a normal, healthy life.

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    References

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol cdc.gov

    Mayo Clinic: Arteriosclerosis mayoclinic.com

    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need To Know http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov

    C. Rosendorff. Effects of LDL cholesterol on vascular function. Journal of Human Hypertension, March 2002; 16(S1): S26-S28.

    Photo by Rob Owen-Wahl, stock.xchng

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