“You can't have too much of a good thing,” the saying goes. But more often than not, you can. Sunshine is good, for example, until your crops start to wither. Then you want rain”until it floods. Too much of a good thing is usually just...too much. Remember Lucy and Ethel, trying to keep up with the chocolates on the assembly line in the classic I Love Lucy episode? When the chocolates came too fast, they tried to cope by shoving the extra chocolates into their mouths, hats, and shirts.
Cholesterol is a good thing. Our bodies make it in the liver and other cells, and cell membranes need it to produce hormones, vitamin D, and the bile acids that help digest fat. However, the body needs only a limited amount of it, and when too much enters our system”whether from the food we eat or a genetic predisposition to produce too much”our bodies are even less able to deal with it than Lucy and Ethel were to handle the excess chocolate. Along the bloodstream, there are no shirts or hats to catch it. Instead, excess cholesterol hardens into plaque buildup that clogs our arteries and leads to reduced blood flow.
Our hearts and brains depend on a vigorous flow of blood and oxygen. If the flow to the heart is restricted, the heart weakens and becomes damaged. If the plaque causing the blockage breaks open, a blood clot may form, making the blockage even worse, especially for your heart health. If a clot completely blocks an artery feeding the heart, you have a heart attack. If the same thing happens in an artery feeding the brain, the result is a stroke.
High cholesterol is a condition without symptoms, which makes it extra dangerous, especially when it comes to heart disease. Unlike Lucy and Ethel, who panicked when the chocolates started coming too fast, most of us are completely oblivious as excess cholesterol starts causing blockages in our bloodstreams. A blood cholesterol test is the only way to find out what your cholesterol levels are. (Click here to learn more about what they should be from the good doctors at EIRMC.)
The physicians at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center are always ready to see you when you're sick, but remember to come in for routine checkups with your primary care physician when you're well, too. If you've got too much of a good thing, they can help you take care of it before it becomes, well, too much.