Cholesterol is a fat (also called a lipid) that your body needs to work properly. But too much bad cholesterol can increase your chance of getting heart disease, stroke, and other problems.
The medical term for high blood cholesterol is lipid disorder, or hyperlipidemia.
There are many types of cholesterol. The ones talked about most are:
For many people, abnormal cholesterol levels are partly due to an unhealthy lifestyle -- most commonly, eating a diet that is high in fat. Other lifestyle factors are:
Certain health conditions can also lead to high cholesterole, including:
Medicines such as certain birth control pills, diuretics (water pills), beta-blockers, and some medicines used to treat depression may also raise cholesterol levels.
Several disorders that are passed down through families lead to abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They include:
Smoking does not cause higher cholesterol levels, but it can reduce your HDL ("good") cholesterol.
A cholesterol test is done to diagnose a lipid disorder. Some guidelines recommend having your first screening cholesterol test at age 20. Everyone should have their first screening test by age 35 in men, and age 45 in women.
It is important to work with your health care provider to set your cholesterol goals. General targets are:
If your cholesterol results are abnormal, your doctor may also do:
There are steps everyone can take to improve their cholesterol levels, and help prevent heart disease and a heart attack.
Quit smoking. This is the single most important change you can make to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Other important lifestyle changes:
See also: Cholesterol and lifestyle
Your doctor may want you to take medicine for your cholesterol if lifestyle changes do not work. This will depend on:
You are more likely to need medicine to lower your cholesterol:
There are several types of drugs to help lower blood cholesterol levels, and they work in different ways. Statins are one kind of drug that lower cholesterol.
High cholesterol levels can lead to hardening of the arteries, also called atherosclerosis. This occurs when fat, cholesterol, and other substances build up in the walls of arteries and form hard structures called plaques.
Over time, these plaques can block the arteries and cause heart disease, stroke, and other symptoms or problems throughout the body.
Disorders that are passed down through families often lead to higher cholesterol levels that are harder to control.
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.