It’s In The Blood

Cholesterol and blood pressure have some things in common. For starters, they both involve what’s going on in your blood vessels. The reason doctors take such an interest, though, is that the wrong levels for either of them can have dangerous long-term impacts.

We want to reduce our risks of heart attacks, heart disease and strokes. That generally means lowering both blood pressure and cholesterol, which means lifestyle changes to things like diet and exercise. The trouble is that while they may look similar, they’re not directly connected. You can’t say that the fact that you have low blood pressure is going to protect you from your high cholesterol.

It can also be a delicate balancing act trying to get the levels right. When we talk about the risks of cholesterol, we generally mean low density lipoprotein (LDL). This is the “bad” cholesterol that causes health problems. However, you also need to be aware of high density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol. You need that to stay healthy. That means you need to eat some fat, but not too much and not the wrong kinds.

Similarly, when our blood pressure is too high, we change our diet to cut back on fat, salt and alcohol, and we try doing more exercise. Hopefully, our pressure will go back to normal levels. What might happen, though, and what’s actually pretty common in athletes who exercise a lot, is that you might end up with hypotension. That’s when your blood pressure is below recommended levels.

Low blood pressure might not be associated with notorious big problems like heart attacks and strokes, but it can still cause dizziness and fainting. At its worst, it can even lead to shock (the medical kind, not just surprise and nothing to do with electricity), which can be life-threatening. Then you need to get it up again.

For milder hypotension, a dose of caffeine might be enough to raise it. In more serious cases, medication called vasopressors may be necessary. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to bring your high blood pressure or cholesterol down, you may need medication for that as well.

Bodies are complicated. They’re easy to damage and difficult to fix. It’s an ongoing challenge to try to get things right, even if you make all the right lifestyle choices. Maintaining balance is the hardest thing of all.

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