Cholesterol is something we often talk about for heart health. But high cholesterol can also make us more likely to have a stroke.
Whether managing cholesterol or recovering from a health setback, in-home health care, such as Comfort Home Health in Pinellas and Pasco Counties, can be a valuable ally in your health journey.
Let’s explore how cholesterol and stroke are linked.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found in every cell of your body. It’s kind of like the building blocks your body uses to produce things like hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help digest your food. We all need some cholesterol to keep our bodies working correctly.
However, it’s important to understand that there are different types of cholesterol: “good” and “bad.” The good kind, called HDL, helps protect your heart. The bad kind, LDL, can build up on the walls of your arteries and lead to heart problems if there’s too much of it.
Types of cholesterol
There are two main types of cholesterol:
LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) Cholesterol
Often dubbed the “bad” cholesterol. When there’s too much LDL cholesterol in the blood, it can build up on the walls of the arteries, leading to blockages. This is why high levels of LDL can increase the risk of heart disease.
HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) Cholesterol
Known as “good” cholesterol. HDL helps remove LDL from the arteries, effectively acting as the cleanup crew for your circulatory system. Having higher levels of HDL can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Understanding these types is essential because, while your body needs cholesterol to function correctly, the balance between these two types plays a crucial role in your overall heart health.
Where does cholesterol come from?
There are numerous factors that can contribute to high cholesterol and mainly come from two main sources, your body and your diet. Some of these include:
- Diet: Consuming foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol can increase your cholesterol levels. This includes foods like fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy products, and some fried foods.
- Weight: Being overweight or obese can elevate LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and reduce HDL (the “good” cholesterol).
- Physical Activity: A lack of physical activity can lead to weight gain, which in turn can raise LDL and lower HDL levels. Regular exercise can help manage healthy cholesterol levels.
- Genetics: Some people may inherit genes that cause their bodies to produce too much cholesterol.
- Age: As you get older, your body’s chemistry changes, and this can lead to higher LDL levels.
- Other factors, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and certain medical conditions, can also influence cholesterol levels.
It’s crucial to be aware of these factors, as managing them can help prevent high cholesterol and the associated risks. So, while your body does an excellent job of producing the cholesterol it needs, the foods we choose can influence your cholesterol levels too. It’s all about maintaining that balance for your health
What’s considered high cholesterol?
High cholesterol involves checking different types of cholesterol and lipid levels in the blood:
- Total Cholesterol: Ideally, you’d want this to be less than 200 mg/dL. If it’s 240 mg/dL or more, it’s considered high.
- LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) Cholesterol: Often referred to as “bad cholesterol,” high levels of LDL can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries. An LDL level of 190 mg/dL or more is very high.
- HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) Cholesterol: This is the “good cholesterol,” which carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver, which then processes and removes it. For HDL, higher levels are better. If it’s less than 40 mg/dL for men or less than 50 mg/dL for women, it’s considered low, and low HDL can be a risk factor for heart disease.
- Triglycerides: These are a type of fat in the blood. A triglyceride level of 200 mg/dL or more is considered high.
It’s essential to understand that these are general guidelines, and individual recommendations may vary based on other risk factors or health conditions.
Complications of High cholesterol
High cholesterol, when left unchecked, can lead to various health complications. It doesn’t present obvious symptoms, which is why recognizing these potential complications underscores the importance of managing cholesterol levels and seeking guidance from healthcare professionals.
- Atherosclerosis: High cholesterol can lead to the buildup of plaque in your arteries. These plaques can harden and narrow the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Narrowed arteries can limit blood flow and make them less flexible.
- Heart Attack: If a plaque in your heart artery breaks, it can trigger a blood clot. If that blood clot blocks an artery, it deprives the heart muscle of oxygen, leading to a heart attack.
- Stroke: Similarly, if a plaque in an artery leading to the brain or within the brain ruptures and causes a blockage, it can lead to a stroke because of reduced blood flow to the brain.
- Peripheral Arterial Disease: High cholesterol can also cause a buildup of plaque in the major arteries that carry blood to the legs and arms. This can limit blood flow to these areas, leading to numbness, pain, and sometimes infections.
- Angina: The narrowing or blockage of coronary arteries by cholesterol-rich plaques can lead to chest pain or discomfort known as angina. It’s a sign that part of the heart isn’t getting as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs, usually during periods of physical exertion or stress.
- Chronic Kidney Disease: Reduced blood flow from narrowed or blocked arteries can also damage the kidneys over time, potentially leading to chronic kidney disease.
How to reduce your cholesterol
- Healthy Diet Choices: Opt for foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. This means:
- Choosing lean cuts of meat.
- Preferring skim or low-fat dairy products.
- Increasing intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: Shedding extra pounds can help lower your LDL and overall cholesterol levels. Even a small weight loss can be beneficial.
- Stay Active: Engaging in regular physical activity can help reduce LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. Aim for activities that get your heart pumping, such as brisk walking, jogging, or swimming.
- Limit Alcohol Consumption: While moderate alcohol consumption may have some heart benefits, too much can lead to health problems. It’s recommended to stick to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.
- Don’t Smoke: If you smoke, consider quitting. Giving up tobacco can improve your HDL cholesterol level.
- Be Mindful of Saturated and Trans Fats: These can raise your cholesterol levels, so it’s essential to be aware of them in your diet and try to limit or avoid them.
Regular check-ups with a healthcare provider can also help monitor cholesterol levels and get guidance tailored to individual needs. Remember, making simple changes in your daily habits can lead to significant improvements in your cholesterol and overall heart health.
Can high cholesterol cause a stroke?
High cholesterol can play a significant role in leading to different strokes. The relationship between cholesterol and stroke becomes clear when understanding the potential complications of high cholesterol.
Excessive cholesterol can result in fatty deposits accumulating in your arteries. As these deposits grow, they may cause a condition known as atherosclerosis.
This narrowing and hardening of the arteries can become a critical warning sign for your health.
Atherosclerosis of the arteries leading to or inside the brain can result in a blockage, which can lead to a stroke. If a blockage occurs in a blood vessel supplying the brain, the lack of oxygen and nutrients can cause brain cells to die, resulting in a stroke.
When atherosclerosis affects arteries leading to or within the brain, it poses a serious risk. If an obstruction takes place in a blood vessel that provides the brain with its necessary blood supply, it can deprive a part of the brain of oxygen and essential nutrients. This shortage can cause brain cells to perish within just 24 hours, leading to types of strokes.
In summary, the intricate link between cholesterol and stroke emphasizes the importance of managing high cholesterol. Not only is it crucial for heart health, but it also plays a vital role in preventing strokes.
What else can increase your risk of a stroke?
As we have discussed earlier, high cholesterol is one of the factors that can increase the risk of stroke, as it can lead to atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries. This, in turn, can cause blockages or interruptions in the blood flow to the brain.
However, there are other factors and conditions that can also elevate the risk of stroke. These include:
- High Blood Pressure: It’s one of the leading causes of stroke. When blood pressure is consistently high, it puts extra strain on the blood vessels and can cause damage over time.
- Smoking: It can damage blood vessels and reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the organs. It also increases the risk of forming clots.
- Diabetes: High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and increase the likelihood of clots forming in the arteries.
- Obesity: Carrying extra weight puts strain on the entire circulatory system.
- Age: The risk of having a stroke doubles every decade after the age of 55.
- Family History: If someone in your family has had a stroke, particularly at a young age, your risk may be higher.
- Physical Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to risk factors like high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including managing cholesterol and blood pressure, staying active, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding smoking, can help reduce the risk of a stroke.
Cholesterol is like a balance in your body; we need some, but not too much. It’s always a good idea to have regular check-ups and chat with your doctor about your cholesterol levels to ensure we’re keeping things in balance and prevent stroke. Making friendly choices, like eating a healthy diet and exercising, can also help keep your cholesterol in check.
For those who may need additional support managing their health at home, especially in understanding or dealing with conditions like high cholesterol, Comfort Home Health offers in-home care services tailored to your needs. Take a proactive step in your health journey with the help of dedicated professionals who care about your well-being.