Cholesterol in the arteries of the heart is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in women. High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase your risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack.
In 2013, about half of all American women over the age of 20 had high cholesterol. And many women don’t even know what their cholesterol numbers are.
Both men and women are at increased risk for heart disease due to high cholesterol. But women should be aware of some important differences, mainly related to hormones, as they control their cholesterol levels throughout life.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy fat that your body uses to make cells, hormones, and other important substances like vitamin D and bile (which aid in the digestive process). Cholesterol is packaged up and transported in the bloodstream in the form of particles known as leprosy proteins.
There are two main types of lipoproteins:
- LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, sometimes called “bad cholesterol,” carries cholesterol where the body needs it.
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, sometimes called “good cholesterol,” carries cholesterol to the liver, where it breaks down.
How Does High Cholesterol Affect Heart Disease In Women?
High cholesterol levels are known as hypercholesterolemia or dyslipidemia. People with high levels of LDL cholesterol and very low levels of HDL cholesterol may have an increased risk of heart disease.
If you have too much LDL cholesterol in your blood, it can build up within the walls of your blood vessels. HDL cholesterol helps remove cholesterol from the bloodstream. But if the HDL level is too low, it will not be enough to help remove LDL cholesterol from the blood vessels.
Over time, the formation of LDL in the blood vessels can turn into a substance known as plaque. Plaque can narrow and harden arteries and restrict blood flow. It’s called atherosclerosis, and it’s considered a type of heart disease.
In general, high cholesterol levels, especially LDL levels, mean that you are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in your lifetime.
How Is Cholesterol Different In Women Compared To Men?
Women generally have higher levels of HDL cholesterol than men, which is why the female sex hormone is called estrogen.
According to a source from the National Institutes of Health Trust, research also shows that cholesterol levels in women vary depending on the stage of the menstrual cycle, causing changes in estrogen levels.
As estrogen levels rise, so does HDL cholesterol, which is produced during ovulation. On the other hand, an increase in dehydrogenase levels leads to a decrease in LDL and total cholesterol levels, which reach a low level just before menstruation.
When women go through menopause between the ages of 50 and 55, many people experience changes in their cholesterol levels.
During menopause, total and LDL cholesterol levels increase and HDL cholesterol decreases. For this reason, even women who had good cholesterol values for most of their lives can have high cholesterol later in life.
Also, pregnancy can increase a woman’s risk of heart disease, especially some complications during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
Pregnancy can also cause an increase in total cholesterol levels, but these levels usually return to normal after pregnancy.
Heart Disease Risk Factors For Women
Commonly, men may have a higher risk of heart disease or heart attack than women. However, several risk factors can increase a woman’s risk, especially during pregnancy and after menopause.
- Old age
- Family history of heart disease
- Lack of exercise
- Being overweight or obese
- Poor diet, such as saturated and high-fat diets
- Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH)
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Hypertension during pregnancy (preeclampsia)
- Gestational diabetes during pregnancy
What Is Considered Normal Cholesterol For Women?
High cholesterol means that your cholesterol level is greater than 200 mg per deciliter (mg / dl). It applies to both men and women over the age of 20.
For women, HDL levels below 50 mg / dL are considered a major risk factor for heart disease. HDL levels above 60 mg / dL can reduce the risk of heart disease.
For women, it is recommended that you try to maintain LDL levels:
- Less than 100 mg / dL if you don’t have heart disease
- Less than 70 mg / dL if you have a family history of heart disease or multiple risk factors for heart disease such as diabetes, age 55 or older, smoking, high blood pressure, or heart disease.
How Often Is Cholesterol Checked?
Cholesterol levels in women over the age of 20 should be measured every 5 years. The cholesterol test should be more frequent in women who have a risk factor for heart disease.
It is very important for women to control their cholesterol levels after menopause. The trusted source from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends that women ages 55 to 65 have a cholesterol test every 1 to 2 years. Older women should be screened every year.
How To Lower Your Risk Of Cholesterol And Heart Disease
Having your cholesterol level checked by a doctor is the first step in understanding your risk for heart disease. There are several ways to lower your cholesterol, including medications that your doctor may prescribe.
Statins are the most common drug for treating high cholesterol. If statins don’t work, your doctor may prescribe a different drug, especially if he thinks you’re at risk for a heart attack or stroke, or if you have familial hypercholesterolemia.
Diet and lifestyle are also very important in reducing cholesterol levels. Here are some lifestyle tips to help lower or maintain healthy cholesterol levels:
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Stop smoking, if you smoke.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day for 5 or more days.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, fiber, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in fatty fish (salmon, trout, tuna) and nuts.
- Avoid eating too much sugar, such as candy, soda, and fruit juices.
- Drink moderately.