Article | October 2019

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Cholesterol

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of fat in the blood. Some cholesterol is needed by your body to work properly, and your body makes the cholesterol you need. But you also get cholesterol from the foods you eat.

There are 2 different types of cholesterol:

  • HDL, or good cholesterol, carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver where it is removed from your body. High HDL levels are linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
  • LDL, or bad cholesterol, can raise your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Talk to your doctor if you have high LDL levels.

Causes

Some of the things that cause high cholesterol levels are out of your control.

These risk factors include:

  • 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 tends to stay low until menopause. Then it rises to about the same level as men.
  • Disease. Certain diseases can raise your risk of high cholesterol, including hypothyroidism, chronic kidney disease, and some types of liver disease.
  • Family history. High cholesterol may run in your family.

Some causes of high cholesterol can be controlled, such as:

  • A diet high in fat
  • Being overweight
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Smoking

Symptoms

Hardening of the arteries

Too much bad cholesterol builds up as plaque in the arteries that carry blood away from your heart. This is known as hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. Hardening of the arteries can lead to coronary artery disease (CAD), blood clots, and inflammation that cause heart attacks and strokes.

Diagnosis and screenings

High cholesterol levels don’t make you feel sick. So a blood test is the only way to know your levels of LDL and HDL.

Treatment

Lowering Your Cholesterol

There are medications your doctor can prescribe that lower your cholesterol.

You can also make some lifestyle changes to lower your cholesterol:

  • Eat more heart-healthy foods
  • Lose weight and maintain a healthy weight
  • Be active on most—if not all—days of the week
  • Stop smoking

More information

For more information about cholesterol, visit MedlinePlus.

Senior man and woman doing exercises in gym