What is high cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that collects in your bloodstream. When blood cholesterol is high, it forms plaque, which can build up in the walls of arteries and cause a blockage.

Over time, this blockage due to high cholesterol can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack or stroke.

What are high-risk factors for high cholesterol?

How your cholesterol numbers affect your heart health depends on other risk factors for heart attack and stroke. The following risk factors for high cholesterol could apply:

  • A man 45 years of age or older or a woman 55 years of age or older
  • Family history of heart problems before the age of 55 in male relatives or age 65 in female relatives; this includes heart attack, coronary heart disease or atherosclerosis
  • High blood pressure; taking medication to treat high blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Exercising very little or not often; recommendations are for 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. If cardiovascular exercise is not being done as often as these recommendations, it may not be enough, and a higher risk for elevated cholesterol, and heart disease may occur
  • Eating a diet that is high in saturated or trans fats, cholesterol, sugar or alcohol may increase the risk for heart disease

How is high cholesterol diagnosed?

Cholesterol testing most often needs no preparation; sometimes you may be asked not to eat before your test. A blood sample is taken and sent to a lab. There, the amount of cholesterol and triglyceride in your blood is measured where there are two types of cholesterol in the sample. The first is the HDL, the "good cholesterol" and the second is the LDL, the "bad cholesterol." These test results are most often shown as the total of HDL and LDL cholesterol numbers; you may be told the separate HDL and LDL cholesterol results, as well.

High cholesterol treatment

If your cholesterol levels are higher than normal, talk with your physician on the medical staff about steps you can take to lower your levels. Steps may include lifestyle changes like diet, physical activity, quitting smoking and medication.

Treatment plans for patients will be determined by their care team based on age, medical history, type and stage of high cholesterol and personal preferences. High cholesterol treatment options may include:

  • Lifestyle changes—eat heart-healthy foods, maintain a healthy weight, exercise, stop smoking, limit alcohol and control stress
  • Medication
  • Rest
  • Clinical trials (when appropriate)

Know more about cardiovascular care