Stroke and cholesterol

What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy fat (lipid) that is made by the body. It is found in the bloodstream and in all of your body’s cells. The body needs cholesterol to form cell membranes, some hormones and vitamin D.

Cholesterol is also found in some foods, such as eggs, meats and dairy products.

Because cholesterol does not dissolve in the blood on its own, it must be carried to and from cells by particles called lipoproteins. There are two main types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

LDL is often called the “bad” cholesterol. It can cause plaque build-up. Plaque is a thick, hard substance that can clog arteries. Recent studies show that high levels of LDL and triglycerides (blood fats) raise the risk of ischemic stroke. Plaque can also increase risk of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) where stroke symptoms go away within 24 hours.

The second main type of cholesterol is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), often called the "good" cholesterol. High levels of HDL may reduce stroke risk.

How does cholesterol affect stroke risk?
High cholesterol or plaque build-up in the arteries can block normal blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke. High cholesterol may also increase the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis, which are both risk factors for stroke.

What increases cholesterol levels?
Many things can affect cholesterol levels. Some can be changed and some cannot.

Things you can change:
• Diet -- Foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol can increase cholesterol levels.
• Weight -- Being overweight can increase your cholesterol levels.
• Exercise -- People who are not active tend to have higher cholesterol levels.

Things you cannot change:
• Family History -- If someone in your family has high cholesterol, you are more likely to have high cholesterol.
• Age -- Most people experience an increase in cholesterol levels until about the age of 65.
• Gender -- Women under age 50 tend to have lower cholesterol and those in menopause have higher levels.

How often should I be checked for high cholesterol?
• All adults age 20 and older should have their cholesterol checked at least once every five years.
• Cholesterol should be checked more frequently in men older than 45 and women older than 55.
• People with a family history of high cholesterol should be checked more often.
• People who have high cholesterol should be checked more often.

What can I do to manage my cholesterol?
• Eat a healthy diet
• Eat low-fat foods especially foods low in saturated fat. This includes vegetables, fruits, lean meats such as chicken and fish, low-fat dairy products and a limited number of egg yolks.
• Bake, broil, steam or grill your food (instead of frying).
• Add fiber to your diet, including whole grains or dried beans.
• Talk to your doctor about any necessary medical treatment that may help control cholesterol levels .

For more information:
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

Cholesterol Education Project
1-800-575-WELL (575-9355)
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/about/ncep/

This information was developed by the National Stroke Association and is herewith used with permission.

National Stroke Association. Cholesterol and Stroke. Available at: http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Cholesterol. Last accessed January 8, 2014.

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