What is high cholesterol?
a type of fat (lipid) in your blood. Your cells need
cholesterol, and your body makes all it
needs. But you also get cholesterol from the food you eat.
If you have too much cholesterol, it starts to build up in your arteries.
(Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart.) This is
called hardening of the arteries, or
atherosclerosis . It is usually a slow process that
gets worse as you get older.
To understand what happens, think
about how a clog forms in the pipe under a kitchen sink. Like the buildup of
grease in the pipe, the buildup of cholesterol narrows your arteries and makes
it harder for blood to flow through them. It reduces the amount of blood that
gets to your body tissues, including your heart. This can lead to serious
heart attack and
Your cholesterol is measured by a blood test:
- High cholesterol is 240 or above.
- Borderline-high is
200 to 239.
- Best is less than 200.
What are the different kinds of cholesterol?
- LDL is the
"bad" cholesterol, the kind that can clog your arteries if you have too much of it. This is the
cholesterol you need to lower, if you have high cholesterol.
- HDL is the "good" cholesterol. HDL helps clear fat from your blood. You want your HDL to be high. A high HDL level is linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
- Triglycerides are another type of fat
in your blood. If you have high triglycerides and high LDL, your
chances of having a heart attack are higher.
What are the symptoms?
High cholesterol doesn't
make you feel sick. By the time you find out you have it, it may already be
narrowing your arteries. So it is very important to start treatment even though
you may feel fine.
What causes high cholesterol?
Many things can
cause high cholesterol, including:
- The foods you eat. Eating too
saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol can raise
- Being overweight.
- Being inactive.
- Age. Cholesterol starts to rise after age 20.
- Family history. If family members have or had high cholesterol, you may also have it.
- Overall health. Diseases such as
hypothyroidism can raise cholesterol.
How is high cholesterol diagnosed?
need a blood test to check your cholesterol. There are
several kinds of tests:
- A fasting cholesterol test is the most
complete test because it measures all of the fats in your blood,
HDL cholesterol and
- A direct LDL test measures your LDL level
- A simple cholesterol test can measure total cholesterol
How is it treated?
If you have high cholesterol, you need treatment to lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. The two main treatments are
lifestyle changes and medicine.
Some lifestyle changes are important for
everyone with high cholesterol. Your doctor will probably want you to:
- Eat a heart-healthy diet that
includes plenty of fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber grains and
breads, and healthy fats like olive oil.
- Lose weight, if you need to. Losing just 5 lb to 10
lb (2.3 kg to 4.5 kg) can lower your cholesterol. Losing
weight can also help lower your blood pressure.
- Get regular exercise on most, if not
all, days of the week. Walking is great exercise that most people can do. A
good goal is 30 minutes or more a day.
- Don't smoke. Quitting can help raise your HDL and
improve your heart health.
Changing old habits may not be easy, but it is very
important to help you live a healthier and longer life. Having a plan can help.
Start with small steps. For example, commit to adding one fruit or one vegetable a day for a week. Instead of having dessert, take a short walk.
If these lifestyle changes don't lower your
cholesterol enough, or if your risk of heart attack is
high, you may also need to take a cholesterol-lowering medicine, such as a statin. Knowing your heart attack risk is
important, because it helps you and your doctor decide how to treat your
To find out your risk, use the
Interactive Tool: Are You at Risk for a Heart Attack?