Lipid and High Cholesterol Management

Elevated levels of lipids and cholesterol are a major risk factor for coronary artery disease, heart disease, and stroke. For this reason, the physicians of The Heart Medical Group are available to provide both counseling and state-of-the-art recommendations to help their patients manage their levels. Sometimes, lifestyle modifications, including dietary changes and increased exercise, are sufficient to bring cholesterol and lipid levels into the normal range. At other times, medication is necessary.

Lipids are molecules containing hydrocarbons that make up the structure of living cells. The term "lipids" encompasses a variety of substances, including fats, oils, waxes, vitamins, hormones and, in fact, the bulk of the non-protein membranes of cells. Cholesterol is a type of lipid produced by the liver, intestines and nearly all body tissues. The substance is also found in foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products.

Functions of Lipids and Cholesterol

Lipids and cholesterol make up part of each cellular membrane, providing and storing energy. They are also necessary for several important bodily processes, including:

  • Production of hormones
  • Production of vitamin D
  • Production of bile (needed to digest fats)
  • Protecting the body from changes in temperature
  • Helping the central nervous system to function

While lipids and cholesterol are necessary, when they are at elevated levels, they can cause serious medical problems.

Managing Elevated Levels

Because elevated levels of lipids or cholesterol do not cause symptoms, all adults over the age of 20 are advised to have a blood test to diagnose this condition at least every 5 years. The test used is known as a lipid panel and tests for levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides. It is used to help assess an individual's risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Patients at increased risk, due to family history, other medical conditions, or lifestyle habits, should be tested more frequently.

The simplest treatment for elevated lipid and cholesterol levels is for patients make lifestyle changes including weight loss, smoking cessation, dietary improvements, and increased exercise.

If lifestyles changes alone do not lower the levels, medication may be prescribed. These medications may include statins to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, or other medications to raise HDL levels, reduce triglycerides, or eliminate bile acids. Many medications used to manage lipid and cholesterol levels have side effects that must be taken into consideration.