Senior Citizens and High Cholesterol

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Published: 27th October 2009
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High blood cholesterol level is linked to an elevated risk of heart disease and having a heart attack. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Over one million Americans have heart attacks, and approximately half a million people die from heart disease every year. Because of this, it is very important that people, particularly senior citizens, monitor their cholesterol and take the necessary measures to keep it in a healthy range.

Cholesterol is a fat like substance. When there is too much of it in your blood, it will begin to build up in your arteries. This causes the arteries to become narrower over time, slowing or blocking blood flow to the heart. Oxygen is carried throughout the body in blood. If not enough oxygen is carried to the heart, you may experience chest pain. When blood supply to part of the heart is cut off completely, you will experience a heart attack.

High blood cholesterol alone does not have any symptoms, so many people do not realize that their cholesterol is too high. Because of this, it is important to monitor your cholesterol levels; and if they are too high, take the necessary steps to lower them. Everyone 20 years of age or older should get their cholesterol checked at least every 5 years. Senior citizens should be especially vigilant about this because cholesterol levels rise as we age.

The lipoprotein profile is a blood test done after fasting that checks your blood cholesterol levels. It will give you information regarding your total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, and triglycerides. If you are not able to get a lipoprotein profile, knowing your total cholesterol as well as your HDL cholesterol can give you a good idea about your blood cholesterol levels.

HDL or good cholesterol actually reduces risk of heart disease, so higher levels of HDL are favorable. Levels higher than 60 mg/dL of HDL are considered positive. Less than 40 mg/dL is considered low and increases the risk of heart disease. Triglycerides act like LDL or bad cholesterol, high levels increase the risk of heart disease. Levels greater than moderately high (150-199 mg/dL) or high (200 mg/dL and above) may require treatment.

Factors that Affect Cholesterol Levels

Many elements of our lifestyle affect blood cholesterol levels, including diet, weight, and physical activity. As we age, we tend to become more sedentary and eat less nutritious meals, this makes senior citizens more likely to become overweight or obese. These factors contribute to senior citizens having an elevated risk of developing high cholesterol. It is important that senior citizens with high cholesterol and those responsible for their elder care consider what may be contributing to their condition.

Diet. Eating foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol raise your cholesterol levels. On the other hand, taking in less saturated fat and cholesterol lowers your cholesterol levels.

Weight. Being overweight or obese greatly increases your risk for developing heart disease. It also is associated with high cholesterol levels. Losing weight helps lower both the risk of heart disease and blood cholesterol levels.

Physical Activity. A sedentary lifestyle is associated with a greater risk of heart disease. Regular physical activity helps to lower total cholesterol levels and facilitates weight loss.
There are other factors that affect cholesterol including age, gender, and heredity. Note, because blood cholesterol levels rise with age, senior citizens are at especially high risk for developing high cholesterol levels.

Treating High Cholesterol Levels

The primary goal of treatments to lower cholesterol is to decrease the risk of heart disease. There are two primary ways to lower cholesterol levels: Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) and medication.

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) includes various steps you can make to lower LDL cholesterol, including diet, weight control, and physical activity.

The TLC Diet. This eating plan is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. It requires less than 7 percent of calories to be from saturated fat and less than 200 mg of cholesterol intake per day. If LDL levels are not sufficiently lowered by decreasing saturated fat and cholesterol alone, soluble fiber intake should be increased. To increase its LDL-lowering power, foods that have plant stanols or sterols (like cholesterol-lowering margarines) can also be included in the diet.

Weight control. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can help lower LDL. It is particularly important when one has high triglyceride and low HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and is overweight or obese.

Physical Activity. Everyone is recommended to partake in regular physical activity, or at least 30 minutes a day at least 4 days week. It helps to increase HDL and decrease LDL levels. It is particularly important when one has high triglyceride and/or low HDL levels, and is overweight or obese.

Drug Treatment

Drug treatment must be accompanied by the lifestyle changes described above. There are many drugs that, in addition to TLC, help lower cholesterol levels. These include statins, nicotinic acid, bile acid sequestrants, fibric acids, and cholesterol absorption inhibitors. Statins are safe for most people and are very effective. Nicotinic acid lowers LDL and triglyceride and increases HDL levels. Bile acid sequestrants lower LDL and can be used along with statins. Fibric acids primarily lower triglyceride and increase HDL levels. Cholesterol absorption inhibiters lower HDL and can be used along with statins. Your physician will help you decide which drug is best suited for you.

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