Cholesterol - the silent killer

It’s a story we hear all too often – someone struck down by a heart attack in the prime of their life without so much as a warning. The culprit? - the silent killer - High cholesterol.  

High cholesterol is well known as the 'silent killer', mainly because it can affect anyone, at any age and has very few symptoms. Having high cholesterol is also a major risk factor for heart disease. We take a look at what it is and how you can manage it.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of fat (lipid) that is found in your blood. Your cells need a certain amount of cholesterol, and your body produces what it needs, but you also ingest cholesterol from the food that you eat.

If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it starts to build up in your arteries, which can cause hardening of the arteries, called atherosclerosis.  This is the starting point for heart and blood flow problems as the build-up can narrow the arteries and make it harder for blood to flow through them. The build-up can also lead to dangerous blood clots and inflammation that can cause heart attacks and strokes.

There are two different types of cholesterol, namely:

  • LDL (low-density lipids) is the "bad" cholesterol. It's the kind that can raise your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

  • HDL (high-density lipids) is the "good" cholesterol. It's the kind that is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Why does cholesterol matter?

Your cholesterol levels can help your doctor find out whether or not you are at risk of having a heart attack or stroke. However, it's not just about your cholesterol; your doctor uses your cholesterol levels along with other factors to calculate your risk. These include:

  • Your blood pressure,

  • Whether or not you have diabetes,

  • Your age, sex, and race, and

  • Whether or not you smoke.

What affects cholesterol levels?

Many things can affect your cholesterol levels. These include:

  • The foods that you eat. Eating too much saturated fat and trans-fat can raise your cholesterol levels.

  • Being overweight. This can lower HDL ("good") cholesterol.

  • Being inactive. Not exercising can lower HDL ("good") cholesterol.

  • Age. Cholesterol starts to rise after age 20. 

  • Family history. If family members have or had high cholesterol, you may also have it.

How is cholesterol tested?

You can have a simple finger prick screening test for your cholesterol at any pharmacy.  

This test is covered as part of your Resolution Health Preventative Care Benefits which are available across most options.  Check your membership guide for more information.

If your screening test is high, you will be referred to your doctor for a complete cholesterol blood test which measures all of the fats that are in your blood, including total LDL and HDL cholesterol.  High cholesterol levels don't make you feel sick and the blood test is the only way in which to detect cholesterol levels.

If you are a Zurreal Platinum* member, you can earn cash rewards when undergoing a cholesterol screening test.  Find out more 

How can you lower your risk of heart attackS and strokeS?

Heart-healthy lifestyle changes can help lower cholesterol risk for everyone.
These include:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and low-fat or non-fat dairy foods,

  • Regular and vigorous physical activity,

  • Losing a few extra kilos if you need to,

  • Quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake.

Statin medicines, which lower “bad” cholesterol levels, can also lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. Some people may need to start taking a statin right away because their chances of having a heart attack or stroke are high. Your doctor will be able to advise you about the best course of action to reduce and maintain lower cholesterol levels.

If you feel that you may need to have your cholesterol levels checked, be sure to take a look through your health scheme plan – not only will you find out where you can have the necessary tests done, but you will also be able to read through the action steps in the event that your cholesterol levels are high. However, if you have yet to sign up for a health scheme, be sure to take a look at the various options from Resolution Health – you are sure to find a plan that suits your budget, and your needs.