Common Myths About High Cholesterol

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Cholesterol home test

High cholesterol is an important risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. It is a misunderstood condition since it usually has no symptoms and the treatments depend on its cause and severity. Rumors you may have heard about high cholesterol are sometimes true but often are not. Learn about eight common myths surrounding high cholesterol.

Myth: You don’t have to worry about heart disease if your total cholesterol is less than 200

False. Although cholesterol is one of the major contributors to heart disease, it isn’t the only one. High blood pressure, a family history of heart disease, and diabetes are other factors that could contribute to cardiovascular disease. Additionally, your total cholesterol may be OK, but your LDL cholesterol may be high and your HDL cholesterol may be low—predisposing you to cardiovascular disease.

Myth: High cholesterol only happens to older adults

False. It may seem that high cholesterol levels are prevalent in older individuals, but this can occur in younger people, too. If you are healthy, the American Heart Association recommends getting your cholesterol checked starting at age 20. In the age of fast food and video games, high cholesterol also has been noted in children as early as their preteens. Therefore, especially if high cholesterol is hereditary in your family, your healthcare provider may check lipid levels earlier than 20 years of age.

Myth: If your cholesterol is high, you will have to take medication

Not necessarily. Depending on your health history and how high your cholesterol levels are, your healthcare provider may try lifestyle modifications first before medication is considered. This would include smoking cessation, low-fat diet, and moderate exercise. Sometimes, this may lower your cholesterol levels. If it doesn’t work, this would be when cholesterol-lowering medication would be considered.

Myth: I don’t feel sick, so I am OK

Not necessarily. Heart disease is a potentially life-threatening disease, especially if you don’t see your physician on a regular basis. In fact, many individuals are not even aware that they have heart disease until they have their first heart attack or stroke unless they go in for a routine office visit. Therefore, it is extremely important to see your healthcare provider on a regular basis to make sure that your heart is healthy. You usually will not have symptoms with high cholesterol levels, just like high blood pressure and diabetes, which are other silent conditions that could lead to heart disease.

Myth: Home cholesterol tests and health fair screenings are highly accurate

Yes and no. This depends on what type of cholesterol test is used and if the kit is used correctly. For instance, there are some screening tests that only test your blood for total cholesterol levels. While this may be effective in determining whether or not someone has high cholesterol, it doesn’t give a breakdown of the subgroups of lipids that compose the total cholesterol level: HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. For example, you might have a high total cholesterol level. However, if you were to analyze the subgroups of lipids and you were found to have high HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol), this is protective against heart disease. Additionally, before you get your cholesterol checked at a health fair screening or with a home cholesterol test, make sure you haven’t eaten anything in eight hours. If not, some aspects of your lipid profile—especially triglycerides—may appear higher than they actually are.

If your test gives you high results or you have had a significant change in your numbers, ask your doctor for a cholesterol test performed by her referral laboratory. Home tests and mobile tests are rarely performed by lab professionals who understand what can cause errors. Medical laboratories are certified, inspected, and quality controlled for accuracy.

Myth: Natural products are good replacements for cholesterol medication

False. Although there are many herbs, vitamins, and other natural products have been seen to lower lipid levels, their effect is usually modest. Some herbal supplements, on the other hand, have not been proven to lower cholesterol levels. Therefore, if your healthcare provider has determined that you need to be on medication to lower your cholesterol levels, don’t substitute this with herbal remedies. Additionally, be sure to consult your healthcare provider if you would like to take an herbal supplement along with your cholesterol-lowering medication, since an adverse interaction may occur.

Myth: If I go on a statin drug, I could develop rhabdomyolysis or damage my liver

Rare. This isn’t a myth, but both are rare side effects of taking statin medications, as low as 1 in 10,000. Your doctor prescribed a statin because your risk of heart attack and stroke are elevated and likely to far exceed the rate of the risk of major side effects. Statins, also known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, are commonly used to lower cholesterol levels because they work on all facets of cholesterol: LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. Additionally, they have other beneficial effects, such as decreasing inflammation.

Myth: Diet and exercise alone should help lower my cholesterol

Not necessarily. In some cases, following a healthy diet and moderate physical activity can help lower your cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends starting with exercise, whether or not you are taking a statin. However, in some cases, it doesn’t help—no matter the amount of exercise or type of healthy diet followed. In these individuals, high cholesterol levels may be genetic. Scientists have been intrigued with this and have identified several genes as possible contributors to high cholesterol levels. Although exercise and diet probably helping your health in other ways, it may not cause your cholesterol and triglyceride levels to budge. In these cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications to help lower your lipids.

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