Cholesterol Health: Signs Your Levels May Be Out of Balance

2016-04-14The word cholesterol has a bad reputation since it’s typically associated with heart disease, yet our body actually needs a certain level of cholesterol to function properly. Cholesterol helps your body make Vitamin D, which is needed to absorb calcium, and is vital in producing hormones. Cholesterol also plays a role digesting food. However, if cholesterol levels are out of balance, your body can suffer.

Cholesterol levels that are too high can lead to heart disease and stroke, while levels that are too low have been associated with mental health concerns. Levels that are either too high or too low are considered a cholesterol disorder.

How do you know if your cholesterol is too high or too low? In many cases there are no obvious signs that cholesterol levels are out of balance, so the most reliable indicator is a blood test. If cholesterol has been out of balance over a period of time, there may be a few indicators.

High Cholesterol Warning Signs

The following signs typically indicate an advanced cholesterol disorder:

  • Chest Pain – If arteries leading to the heart are blocked by a cholesterol buildup, it can create chest pain, also called angina. You should contact your doctor right away to have chest pain evaluated. If you have any severe chest pain or chest pain accompanied by sweating, dizziness, nausea, or arm pain, you should call 911.
  • Dizziness – Feeling dizzy or lightheaded may indicate blocked arteries and can sometimes be signs of a stroke. If you have dizziness accompanied by slurred speech, a sudden severe headache, or numbness on one side of the body, you should call 911.
  • Leg Pain – Arteries clogged with cholesterol can reduce blood flow to the legs, creating pain. This is referred to as Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD). Signs of PAD include pain in any part of the leg or a feeling that your legs or heavy or tired. Some people also report a burning sensation. Symptoms will usually get better with rest and return with walking or activity.

Possible Signs of Low Cholesterol

Some studies have shown a link between low cholesterol and certain mental health disorders.

  • Depression – While there are many causes of depression, studies have shown patients with low cholesterol are more prone to depression Researchers do not totally understand the link between depression and low cholesterol, but believe it may be tied to cholesterol’s role in making Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for cell growth. If brain cells aren’t healthy, you may experience anxiety or depression.
  • Anxiety – Like depression, studies show patients with very low levels of cholesterol had higher rates of anxiety than the general population.

Understanding Cholesterol Numbers

The only way to properly diagnose your cholesterol levels is through a blood test. You should discuss individual goals for cholesterol readings with your physician. The types of cholesterol and general target numbers are:

  • Total cholesterol – all the cholesterols combined. Target is less than 200 mg/dL. Lower numbers are generally better, but anything below 120 mg/dL is considered too low.
  • High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – often called “good” cholesterol. Target number is more than 50 mg/dL. For HDL, high numbers are better.
  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – often called “bad” cholesterol. For LDL, 70 to 100 mg/dL is ideal. Lower numbers are generally better; however anything below 50 mg/dL is considered too low.

Treating Cholesterol Disorders

Initially, your primary care provider will probably be the person to diagnose and treat high or low cholesterol. However, for patients with a family history of cholesterol disorders or for those who continue to have a hard time controlling cholesterol, an endocrinologist can help. Endocrinologists are doctors who are trained in the endocrine system, which includes the various glands that produce hormones, hormones, and elements that affect hormone production, including cholesterol.

The Endocrinologists at LeBauer HealthCare in Greensboro, NC, help identify possible causes of cholesterol disorders and help patients create an individualized treatment plan. Learn more about the LeBauer Endocrinology team or schedule an appointment by calling 336.832.3088.

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