High cholesterol, also known as hyperlipidemia or dyslipidemia, contributes to blood vessel disease, which often leads to stroke.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy fat that is made by the body. We also absorb some cholesterol from foods we eat, such as eggs, meats and dairy products.
The main cause of high cholesterol is a diet high in saturated fats, i.e. fats from animal foods. High cholesterol can also be hereditary.
There are two types of cholesterol:
- Low-density lipoprotein (or LDL) is the ‘bad’ cholesterol that builds up on the artery walls.
- High-density lipoprotein (or HDL) is the ‘good’ cholesterol. It is called the good cholesterol because it removes cholesterol from the blood stream. It takes cholesterol from the cells in our body to the liver where it is broken down and removed safely from our body.
The ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol is the key measurement of your stroke risk. The more HDL you have the lower your risk for stroke. The more LDL that you have, the greater your risk for stroke.
When there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it can build up on artery walls and narrow the arteries. This is called atherosclerosis. It can block the flow of blood or cause blood clots, leading to an ischaemic stroke.
Control your risk
Speak to your doctor about your current cholesterol level and what you should aim for to reduce your risk of stroke.
Diet changes, exercise and medication can all lower your cholesterol:
- Eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated (animal) fats and high in fruit and vegetables. Choose vegetable oils, olive oil or margarine. Regularly eat fish (fresh or canned), and select lean meat and dairy products that are mostly reduced fat.
- Be physically active, with at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
- Don’t smoke.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
Your doctor may also prescribe lipid-lowering medication to reduce your cholesterol. You should be prescribed this medication if you've had an ischaemic stroke.
There are several lipid-lowering medications available and each works in a different way. For instance, some may only lower LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) levels, whereas others may target all cholesterol.
Statins are the most common type of medication prescribed to lower cholesterol. Your doctor can advise the most appropriate medication for you.
You should not stop taking your medication or change the amount you take without talking to your doctor.
Video: Facts on statins and stroke presented by Prof Richard Richard Lindley, Chair of Stroke Foundation Clinical Council.