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How High Cholesterol Impacts Your Rotator Cuff Surgery

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You probably already know that having high cholesterol can drastically increase your risk of heart disease. But you likely didn't realize that if you need a rotator cuff surgery, it's more likely to fail if you have abnormally high cholesterol. Read on to learn everything you need to know. 

Cholesterol 101

You need some cholesterol, a waxy substance, in your body -- it's important to build cell walls and create certain hormones. But too much of it clogs your arteries and strains your heart. The particularly damaging cholesterol is low-density lipoprotein (LDL), while the beneficial cholesterol that helps get rid of LDL is known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL). 

Triglycerides aren't a type of cholesterol, although they are just as damaging to your heart, so they make up part of your total cholesterol. For optimal health, you should aim for an LDL level below 100 mg/dL and an HDL above 60 mg/dL, while triglycerides need to stay below 150 mg/dL. Your total cholesterol combines LDL, HDL, and triglycerides, and should stay below 200 mg/dL

What the Research Shows

In March of 2017, researchers from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons published their research on how high cholesterol impacts your shoulder surgery. During the study, researchers evaluated rotator cuff repair surgeries and cholesterol levels of approximately 31,000 patients who went through arthroscopic rotator cuff repair between 2007-2014. 

They found that patients who had moderate or high total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol were significantly more likely to need a rotator cuff revision surgery, as compared to patients with normal cholesterol levels. The risk of needing a revision was even higher if those patients weren't taking cholesterol-lowering statin medications before their shoulder surgery.

On the other hand, if patients were taking statins before or after surgery, they didn't have a statistically higher risk of needing a shoulder surgery revision, even if they had high cholesterol and high LDL. This research lets medical experts better understand why some patients' rotator cuff surgeries fail, although the exact link between high cholesterol and shoulder surgery revision needs to be studied further.

Ways to Lower Cholesterol

Your orthopedist might want to evaluate your health records from your primary care physician and could even order new blood work before scheduling your shoulder surgery. This way if your cholesterol is high, they can help you find ways to bring it down, so your rotator cuff surgery is a success. Some of the best ways to improve your cholesterol include:

  • Get more soluble fiber
  • Increase your physical activity
  • Lose at least 5-10% of your body weight

Even though these are some of the most effective ways to improve your cholesterol levels, they take time -- often several months -- to really start taking effect. In the meantime, your orthopedist might suggest getting started on statins or other type of cholesterol-lowering medication in the meantime, just to help ensure your rotator cuff heals properly.