Cholesterol is an organic molecule. It is a sterol (or modified steroid), a lipid molecule and is biosynthesized by all animal cells because it is an essential structural component of animal cell membranes that is required to maintain both membrane structural integrity and fluidity. Cholesterol enables animal cells to not need a cell wall (like plants and bacteria) to protect membrane integrity/cell-viability and thus be able to change shape and move about (unlike bacteria and plant cells which are restricted by their cell walls).
High blood cholesterol presents a major risk factor for heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. Approximately seventeen-percent of all adults in America have high blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the body that is actually needed for it to function normally. The body produces sufficient amounts of cholesterol for its needs; when there is too much cholesterol in the body it is deposited in the arteries, to include arteries involved with the heart, potentially leading to a narrowing of these arteries and heart disease.
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The presence of high blood cholesterol does not produce symptoms; many people are unaware that they have an elevated blood cholesterol level. There are ways to keep blood cholesterol levels within a normal range.
Cholesterol is carried in blood in particles referred to as, 'Lipoproteins.' Lipoproteins are made up of cholesterol on the inside with protein on the outside. There are two kinds of Lipoproteins, low-density lipoproteins (LDL's), and high-density lipoproteins (HDL's).
Excessive amounts of either total or LDL cholesterol in the blood presents a risk for arthrosclerosis and heart disease. People may have an excess of cholesterol due to their diet and because of the rate at which cholesterol is processed in their body. The majority of the excess cholesterol comes from the person's diet. Cholesterol may build up on the person's artery walls in their body, a buildup referred to as, 'Plaque.' Over a period of time, plaque may cause the person's arteries to narrow, a process referred to as, 'Atherosclerosis.' As a result, less oxygen-rich blood can pass through. When the arteries that carry blood to the person's heart become affected, coronary artery disease may result. A heart attack happens when the person's coronary artery becomes completely blocked, either by plaque buildup or by a plaque that either ruptures or bursts causing a clot. The person may also develop angina due to plaque buildup. Angina occurs when the person's heart does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood.
If a doctor discovers that a person's blood cholesterol is too high, they may prescribe various forms of treatment depending on that person's risks for the development of heart disease. The forms of treatment may include lifestyle changes involving diet, physical activity, and weight control. The doctor may prescribe certain statin drugs in order to manage cholesterol levels. Lifestyle changes are still commonly a recommendation, even with medications.