Cholesterol is a type of fat in the blood. High cholesterol is when there is too much of this fat. There are 2 types:
- LDL or 'bad cholesterol'—causes fats to build up in blood vessels.
- HDL or 'good cholesterol'—removes fats from the blood.
High LDL cholesterol can raise the risk of stroke and heart disease. High HDL cholesterol can lower the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Things that raise the risk of high cholesterol are:
- Family members with high cholesterol
- Lifestyle habits such as:
- Physical inactivity—can increase LDL and decrease HDL
- Cigarette smoking—can decrease HDL
- Excess alcohol intake
- Diets that are very high in sugar or certain fats
- Certain medical conditions such as:
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Some diseases of the kidneys, liver or thyroid
- Excess weight
- Certain medicines such as:
- Progestins in birth control pills
- Steroids and corticosteroids
- Protease inhibitors to treat HIV
Cholesterol can be measured in the blood. The test is done as part of a regular screening. For healthy adults this may be every few years. Those with risk factors for heart disease may be screened more often. Children may be screened if they are obese or have a family history of high cholesterol.
Cholesterol screening is part of a blood test that will include:
- Total cholesterol
- HDL cholesterol
- LDL cholesterol
A doctor can advise how often a person should be tested for high cholesterol. This is often based on the person's family and medical history.
The goal of treatment is to lower cholesterol levels. This will also help to lower the risk for heart disease and stroke. Treatment options include:
Statins are a medicine that may help lower cholesterol. They may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Even when using medicine, diet and exercise are important.
Other steps that can help lower cholesterol levels include:
- Reaching and keeping a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Treating and controlling other medical conditions
Certain foods and drinks can affect cholesterol levels in some people. To help lower cholesterol levels, the doctor may advise:
- Eating more fruits and vegetables,whole grains, and fiber
- Eating foods that are low in saturated fat and sugar
- Eating more fish
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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a (Cholesterol, High; Hypercholesterolemia)
American Heart Association http://www.heart.org
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov
Dietitians of Canada https://www.dietitians.ca
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada http://www.heartandstroke.ca
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High blood cholesterol. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/high-blood-cholesterol. Accessed January 2021.
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