Cholesterol is a vital substance that is not only supplied through food, but is also formed in the liver, mainly at night. In general, a distinction is made between good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. If the body produces too much of the latter, it damages blood vessels and other organs. “The fact that high cholesterol is a widespread disease is partly due to our lifestyle,” says Senior Physician Peter Wöss from the Rohrbach Clinic, and answers the most important questions.
How many people are affected?
Peter Woess: Slightly more than half of the people in this country have elevated values, around one million Austrians have a high to highest risk of damage.
What are the main symptoms?
The dangerous thing about high cholesterol is that it doesn’t initially cause any symptoms and often goes unnoticed. That’s why it’s so important to filter out high-risk patients. The best way to do this is to have a “health check-up” with your family doctor, during which blood lipids are measured. A permanently high cholesterol level can cause damage to blood vessels or other organs and, as a result, heart attacks and strokes.
What are the risk factors?
Heredity plays a big role. Smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure also have a negative effect, especially in combination with other risk factors.
At what age does it occur?
If there are cases in the family, it’s best to get your levels checked as early as possible—even at a young age. Otherwise, from the age of 40 is a good time – at that age regular health checks are recommended anyway.
What comorbidities should those affected expect?
In the case of cholesterol, the late effects are particularly serious. The narrowing of the coronary arteries makes patients susceptible to heart attacks, but angina pectoris, that unpleasant feeling of tightness in the chest that occurs under stress, is also one of them. Incidentally, women usually feel this differently, with them it often shows up without any stress, often also at night.
What can patients do?
Pay attention to a healthy lifestyle, consume little animal fat, avoid being overweight and exercise is also a very important factor. For older people, a long walk every day is enough. It greatly reduces the risk of heart attacks. And, of course, regular visits to the doctor are very important.
Which doctor is the right one?
The first point of contact is the family doctor, who can also carry out the treatment. Patients with extremely high cholesterol levels are referred to a metabolic outpatient clinic.
What does the treatment look like?
Standard therapy are the so-called statins, which are used in different dosages – often in combination with ezetimibe. There are no remedies in naturopathy that have been proven to work. My advice: Even if you take medication, you should pay attention to your diet. Here the dose makes the poison. If someone doesn’t want to do without their breakfast egg or their sandwich, that’s no problem. The hidden animal fats in sausage, fatty cheese or in many ready meals are more insidious.
What is happening in research? Are new therapies in prospect?
Yes. The PCSK9 inhibitor, which is injected every two to four weeks, can lower the PCSK9 enzyme and thus promote LDL breakdown. Unfortunately, the therapy is very expensive and is only approved for high-risk patients.
Your personal tip?
Live healthily, take preventive medical check-ups. And if you take medication, check again and again whether the target values, which differ from person to person, are being reached. So stay tuned!
Which cholesterol value is considered favorable?
In order to determine whether there is an elevated cholesterol level, it is sufficient to measure the cholesterol levels in the blood. Total cholesterol, HDL and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides are examined for the diagnosis.
A total cholesterol value of less than 200 mg/dl and an LDL cholesterol value of less than 115 mg/dl are considered favourable. The assessment of the values also depends on individual risk factors.