What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of fat. Fats are also called lipids.
Your body uses cholesterol to build important parts of cells and to make certain digestive juices. Your body needs cholesterol. But having too much cholesterol in your blood (high cholesterol) for a long time can cause health problems.
High cholesterol over time leads to blocked arteries
Blocked arteries can cause heart attack Heart Attack A heart attack is when blood flow to part of your heart is suddenly blocked and some of your heart muscle dies. Go to an emergency department and chew on an aspirin tablet if you think you're... read more , stroke Stroke A stroke is a sudden brain problem that happens when a blood vessel in your brain either gets blocked or breaks open and bleeds. As with all organs in the body, the brain needs oxygen and nutrients... read more , and poor circulation in your legs (peripheral arterial disease Peripheral Arterial Disease Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your organs and tissues. Peripheral arteries are the arteries in your arms and legs. Peripheral arterial disease is when an... read more )
You can treat high cholesterol by exercising more, changing what you eat, and taking medicine
Where does cholesterol come from?
Cholesterol in your body comes from two places:
Some cholesterol comes from eating certain foods
Some cholesterol is made in your body from other substances
What are the different types of cholesterol?
There are several types of cholesterol. Two important types are called:
LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol)
HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)
Total cholesterol is the amount of all the different cholesterol types in your bloodstream.
Is high cholesterol bad?
Having a high level of LDL cholesterol for a long time causes hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis Atherosclerosis In people with atherosclerosis, patchy deposits of fatty material (atheromas or atherosclerotic plaques) develop in the walls of medium-sized and large arteries, leading to reduced or blocked... read more ). Your arteries clog up with a mixture of cholesterol, fats, and other substances. Your blood has trouble flowing through the clogged vessels. Sometimes blood clots form in the clogged areas and shut off blood flow completely. Shutting off blood flow to your heart causes a heart attack Heart Attack A heart attack is when blood flow to part of your heart is suddenly blocked and some of your heart muscle dies. Go to an emergency department and chew on an aspirin tablet if you think you're... read more . Shutting off blood flow to your brain causes a stroke Stroke A stroke is a sudden brain problem that happens when a blood vessel in your brain either gets blocked or breaks open and bleeds. As with all organs in the body, the brain needs oxygen and nutrients... read more .
Having a high level of HDL cholesterol makes it less likely that you will get atherosclerosis. That's why HDL is called good cholesterol.
What causes high cholesterol?
Some people's body makes too much cholesterol, no matter what they eat. This kind of high cholesterol problem runs in families.
High cholesterol can also be caused by:
Eating a lot of foods high in fat and cholesterol
Not being active
Drinking too much alcohol
Taking certain medicines
You don't have to be fat to have high cholesterol.
What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?
High cholesterol usually doesn’t cause symptoms. However, in severe cases, you might get:
Small yellowish bumps on your skin from excess fats (xanthomas)
How can doctors tell if I have high cholesterol?
A simple blood test can let doctors know if you have high cholesterol. Doctors recommend cholesterol testing for:
Children between ages 9 and 11 (earlier if they have risk factors for high cholesterol such as diabetes)
Adults at age 20
Adults should have a cholesterol test every 4 to 6 years.
How do doctors treat high cholesterol?
High cholesterol can be treated by:
Eating less fat (especially saturated fat) and cholesterol
Being active (for example, walking fast) at least 30 minutes per day, 5 times a week
Stopping smoking if you smoke
Taking a medicine that lowers cholesterol
Foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol include:
Fruits and vegetables (whether they're fresh, frozen, canned, or dried)
Lean meats, like fish, skinless chicken and turkey, and lean types of beef, lamb, pork, and veal
Whole-grain breads and cereals, such as oatmeal, bran, rye, and multigrain
Low-fat dairy products, such as skim or 1% milk, nonfat or low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cheeses
Unsaturated vegetable oils, such as canola, olive, corn, safflower, sesame, soybean, and sunflower
Foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol include:
Butter, cream, or saturated fats and oils
Sausages, cold cuts, hot dogs, organ meats, spareribs, egg yolks, and fatty types of beef, lamb, and pork
Store-bought baked goods, such as pies, cakes, doughnuts, and high-fat cookies and crackers
High-fat dairy products, like whole milk, cream, half-and-half, whole-milk yogurt, most cheeses, butter, and ice cream
Oils that are high in saturated fat, such as coconut oil, palm oil, lard, and bacon fat