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High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance. It travels in your blood through the blood vessels. When you have high cholesterol, it builds up in the walls of the blood vessels. This makes the vessels narrower. Blood flow decreases. You are then at greater risk for having a heart attack or a stroke.

Good and Bad Cholesterol:

Lipids are fats. Blood is mostly water. Fat and water don’t mix. So our bodies need lipoproteins (lipids inside a protein shell) to carry the lipids. The protein shell carries its lipids through the bloodstream. There are two main kinds of lipoproteins:

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is known as “bad cholesterol.” It mainly carries cholesterol. It delivers this cholesterol to body cells. Excess LDL cholesterol will build up in artery walls. This increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.

  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is known as “good cholesterol.” It is mostly a protein shell. The shell collects excess cholesterol that LDLs have left behind on blood vessel walls. That’s why high levels of HDL cholesterol can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke.



High cholesterol does not cause symptoms. It is usually found during a blood test that measures cholesterol levels.


Caused by:

Cholesterol levels are affected by:

  • What you eat. Eating too much saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol can cause high cholesterol. Saturated fat and cholesterol are in foods that come from animals, such as meats, whole milk, egg yolks, butter, and cheese. Trans fat is found in fried foods and packaged foods, such as cookies, crackers, and chips.

  • Your weight. Being overweight may increase triglycerides and decrease HDL (good cholesterol).

  • Your activity level. Lack of physical activity can lower your HDL.

  • Your age and gender. After you reach age 20, your cholesterol naturally begins to rise. In men, cholesterol generally levels off after age 50. In women, it stays fairly low until menopause. Then it rises to about the same level as in men.

  • Some diseases. Certain diseases may raise your risk of high cholesterol. These include hypothyroidism, chronic kidney disease, and some types of liver disease.

  • Your family history. High cholesterol may run in your family. If family members have or had high cholesterol, you may also have it.

  • Cigarette smoking. Smoking can lower your HDL cholesterol.

  • Certain medicines. Some medicines can raise triglyceride levels and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels. These medicines include thiazide diuretics, beta-blockers, estrogen, and corticosteroids.



Controlling Cholesterol Levels:
Total cholesterol includes LDL and HDL cholesterol, as well as other fats in the bloodstream. If your total cholesterol is high, follow the steps below to help lower your total cholesterol level.

  • Eat less unhealthy fat. Cut back on saturated fats and trans (also called hydrogenated) fats. A diet that’s high in these fats increases your bad cholesterol. It’s not enough to just cut back on foods containing cholesterol.

  • Eat about 2 servings of fish per week. Most fish contain omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Eat more whole grains and soluble fiber (such as oat bran). These lower overall cholesterol.

  • Be active - choose an activity you enjoy. Walking, swimming, and riding a bike are some good ways to be active.  Start at a level where you feel comfortable. Increase your time and pace a little each week. Work up to 30 minutes on most days. You can break this up into three 10-minute periods. Remember, some activity is better than none. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, start slowly. Check with your doctor to make sure the exercise plan is right for you.

  • Quit Smoking. Quitting smoking can improve your lipid levels. It also lowers your risk for heart disease and stroke.

  • Take Medication As Directed. Many people need medication to get their LDL levels to a safe level. Medication to lower cholesterol levels is effective and safe. (But taking medication is not a substitute for exercise or watching your diet!) Your doctor can tell you whether you might benefit from a cholesterol-lowering medication.


Providers who treat this condition:

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