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High Cholesterol


What is Cholesterol?

What are Blood Lipids?

What are Triglycerides?

Why are Blood Lipids a risk factor for Stroke?

How are Blood Lipids measured?

What can I do to help lower my Blood Lipids?

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is mainly made in the body when the liver breaks down saturated fats in food.  This cholesterol then passes into the blood.  

Cholesterol travels in the bloodstream in two forms:

  • 'Low Density Lipoprotiens' (LDLs) - this is often called 'bad cholesterol' as it helps to deliver cholesterol to the body thorugh the bloodstream.  
  • 'High Density Lipoproteins' (HDLs) - this is often called 'good cholesterol' as it helps to take bad cholesterol out of the bloodstream from parts of the body.

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What are Blood Lipids?

"Blood Lipids" is the term used for all the fatty substances found in the blood, including cholesterol and triglycerides.  Some people have too much cholesterol (fat) in their blood and this increases their chances of having a stroke.


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What are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are another type of fat found in the blood which mainly come from food. After you eat, fats in the food are broken down in the liver into triglycerides.  The liver can also convert excess calories (e.g. from drinking too much alcohol, sugar drinks, or eating too much fatty foods or meat) into triglycerides. These fatty triglycerides are released into your blood and are then transported through your body and used as energy or stored as fat. 

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Why are Blood Lipids a risk factor for Stroke?

High levels of fat in your blood can lead to fatty deposits in the blood vessels (this is known as athersclerosis).  The fatty deposits can be found in the arteries which supply blood to the brain, this can cause the narrowing or hardening of the arteries.  For further information see the What is a Stroke? section.

An individuals goal is to aim for: 

  • low levels of total fat in the blood
  • low levels of LDL cholesterol
  • high levels of HDL cholesterol
  • low levels of triglycerides

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How are Blood Lipids measured ?

Blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) are measured by a simple blood test.  Your nurse or doctor will take a sample of your blood.  If you are having your triglyceride levels measured, you will be asked not to eat anything, and to drink only clear water for about 12 hours before your blood is taken.

Blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) are measured in units called millimols per litre of blood, usually shortened to 'mmol/l'.  Your target is to have:

  • a total cholesterol level under 5mmol/l
  • an LDL level under 3mol/l
  • a HDL level above 1mmol/l
  • a triglyceride level under 2mmol/l

This may all seem quite confusing - but don't worry. If you have had a stroke or a TIA (mini-stroke) you should be on cholesterol-lowering medication usually a statin (e.g. Simvastatin, Atorvastatin), even if your cholesterol level is normal. If you are not on these medicines, ask your doctor or nurse about them. 

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What can I do to help to lower my Blood Lipids?

There are many things that you can do to help lower the levels of fat in your blood:  

  • try to eat less fatty foods, especially foods with lots of saturated fat
  • if you are overweight then losing a bit of weight can help lower your cholesterol.  Try to loose at least a half to one lb (0.5kg) a week.  This might not seem much but over a few weeks it will mount up. 
  • try to be a bit more active  - this will also help you to lose weight
  • take the correct medicines  e.g. cholesterol lowering drugs  (if your doctor thinks you need them). 

The Lifestyle Changes and Reducing the Risk of Stroke section provides more information on healthy eating and physical activity.  You could also ask your GP or Practice Nurse for more advice. 

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