High cholesterol causes heart palpitations

Contributed by Debbie Clason, senior writer and researcher with MIRS; and Michaela Pasquella, senior editor for MIRS.

The reason for heart palpitations is because of high cholesterol.

High cholesterol can cause a number of heart-related issues, including palpitations.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that accumulates in the blood of people with high cholesterol.

It is the main type of fat in the blood. It is produced by the liver and is needed for many functions, including:

  • Blood clotting
  • Synthesizing vitamin D
  • Producing antibodies

When the liver is damaged, it produces more cholesterol than the body can remove.

People with high cholesterol have a higher risk for heart attack and stroke.

High cholesterol can also cause:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath or pain in the upper part of the chest
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Poor concentration
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms of high cholesterol

People with high cholesterol may have some of the following symptoms:

  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Rapid heart rate

These symptoms can appear at the same time or may be followed by other symptoms.

Causes of high cholesterol

High cholesterol is caused by:

  • Eating a diet that is high in saturated fats, such as a high-fat diet
  • Having too much body fat (excess weight)
  • Not getting enough physical activity
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease

High cholesterol is more common in people who:

  • Are overweight
  • Smoke
  • Drink alcohol excessively
  • Are from an ethnic group with a higher risk for heart disease

High cholesterol is also more common in people who have diabetes, a condition in which the body does not use insulin properly.

People with diabetes often take medications to help control the condition. These medications can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

High cholesterol and diabetes can be linked to obesity because the body may need more cholesterol to help regulate the amount of calories burned.

High cholesterol and other risk factors

Some risk factors may contribute to high cholesterol. These risk factors may be related to:

Weight: According to one study, people who are overweight are more likely to have high cholesterol.

Obesity: People who are obese are more likely to have high cholesterol. This is because the liver of a person with obesity does not produce enough cholesterol.

Diabetes: People with diabetes are more likely to have high LDL cholesterol and high triglycerides. They are also more likely to have high blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

Family history: People who have a parent or sibling with high cholesterol levels are at a higher risk for high cholesterol.

Smoking: Smoking may increase the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.

Alcohol: Drinking alcohol can cause high cholesterol.

How high cholesterol is diagnosed?

Doctors use several methods to diagnose high cholesterol. They may use:

  • Blood tests
  • Cholesterol screening in the urine
  • A cholesterol test in the blood

Doctors also may ask you:

  • How old you are
  • How much and how long you exercise
  • What other health problems you have

They may also want to test your cholesterol levels if they suspect that you have heart disease.

How high cholesterol is treated?

No specific treatment is used for high cholesterol.

Treatment of high cholesterol depends on the type of cholesterol and how high the level is.

People with high cholesterol usually have a diet that is low in saturated fats, fruits, and vegetables.

These foods can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

High cholesterol can also be treated with:

  • Lifestyle
  • Drugs
  • Surgery

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes can help people with high LDL cholesterol. They include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Exercising
  • Not having large amounts of alcohol
  • Maintaining a normal weight

Medications

Medications are used to help lower the amount of cholesterol in the blood. These drugs include:

  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Statins
  • Triglyceride-lowering drugs
  • Anti-platelet drugs
  • Beta blockers
  • ACE inhibitors

Surgery

In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove the part of the liver that produces cholesterol.

Heart disease

Heart disease is a condition that can cause high cholesterol.

People with heart disease have high blood pressure, which can raise cholesterol.

Heart disease may also damage the heart muscle and cause the heart to beat too fast or irregularly. This may raise cholesterol levels.

People with heart disease may also have an irregular heartbeat.

High cholesterol and exercise

People with high LDL cholesterol may need to limit the amount of exercise they do.

Exercise can improve blood circulation. This can help remove cholesterol from the blood.

Exercising regularly is important for heart health.

High cholesterol and diet

A diet that is low in saturated fats and high in fruits and vegetables may help.

People with a diet high in saturated fats may need to limit the amount of saturated fats they eat.

High cholesterol and medications

Medications can help reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

These medications are called lipid-lowering drugs:

  • Cholesterol-lowering medications
  • Triglyceride-lowering medications
  • Anti-platelet medications

Lipid-lowering medications

Lipid-lowering medications help lower the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

Lipid-lowering medications include:

  • Statin drugs
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors
  • Lipid-modifying agents

Triglyceride-lowering medications

Triglyceride-lowering medications help lower the level of triglycerides in the blood.

Triglycerides are a type of fat. They are produced when fatty foods are broken down.

When fat is broken down, triglycerides are released in the blood.

People with higher levels of triglycerides may need to take medication to help remove them from the body.

Anti-platelet medications

Anti-platelet medications help prevent blood clots.

Platelets are small blood cells. They help form blood clots.

Doctors sometimes use anti-platelet medications to help prevent heart attacks.

Lipid-modifying agents

Lipid-modifying agents help lower the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

Lipid-modifying agents include:

  • Ezetimibe
  • Niacin
  • Simvastatin
  • Lopid
  • Orlistat

How do people do high cholesterol?

The following strategies can help people with a high LDL cholesterol:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly

People can lower their risk for high cholesterol and heart disease by making these changes.

People should also be aware of their cholesterol levels, even if they do not have any symptoms.

People should talk with their doctor if they:

  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have type 2 diabetes
  • Have heart disease
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have high cholesterol

People should also talk with their doctor if their blood cholesterol levels have been checked but they have not received a diagnosis of high cholesterol.

People should also make sure that their healthcare provider is aware of any other conditions associated with high cholesterol.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

If you have any of the following symptoms, call your healthcare provider:

  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breathe

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your symptoms and test your cholesterol levels.

What is the outlook?

High cholesterol is common. About 5 to 10 percent of adults in the United States have high cholesterol.

It is important to see your doctor regularly. They can determine whether you have high cholesterol.

If your doctor suspects that you have heart disease, they will want to check your cholesterol levels.

High cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. Treatment is available to help prevent heart disease.

People with heart disease are also at a higher risk for high cholesterol.

People with a family history of high cholesterol may need to be screened regularly. They should also have their cholesterol levels checked.

If your doctor suspects you have heart disease, they may also want to test your cholesterol levels.

If you have high cholesterol, they may recommend a diet that is low in saturated fats, fruits, and vegetables.

They may also recommend that you stop smoking, exercise, and not drink alcohol excessively.

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