- High Cholesterol: Frequently Asked Questions Center
- Cholesterol Levels Slideshow Pictures
- Lowering Cholesterol Slideshow
- Take the Cholesterol Quiz
- Patient Comments: High Cholesterol - Experience
- What is cholesterol?
- Why should I be concerned about cholesterol?
- What's the difference between "good" and "bad" cholesterol?
- How much cholesterol is too much?
- Can I lower my risk for heart disease if I lower my cholesterol?
- What makes my cholesterol levels go up?
- What can I do to lower my cholesterol?
- What medications are used to treat high cholesterol?
- If a product's package reads "low cholesterol" does that mean that the product is low in fat and safe to eat?
- At what age should people begin having their cholesterol checked?
1) What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally in all parts of the body and is made by the liver. Cholesterol also is present in foods we eat. People need cholesterol for the body to function normally. Cholesterol is present in the cell walls or membranes everywhere in the body, including the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines, and heart.
2) Why Should I Be Concerned About Cholesterol?
Too much cholesterol in your body means that you have an increased risk of getting cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease. If you have too much cholesterol in your body, the cholesterol can build up on the walls of the arteries that carry blood to your heart. This buildup, which occurs over time, causes less blood and oxygen to get to your heart. This can cause chest pain and heart attacks.
3) What's the Difference between "Good" and "Bad" Cholesterol?
HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as good cholesterol. HDL takes the bad cholesterol out of your blood and keeps it from building up in your arteries. LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as bad cholesterol because it can build up on the walls of your arteries and increase your chances of getting cardiovascular disease. When being tested for high cholesterol, you want a high HDL number and a low LDL number.
4) How Much Cholesterol Is Too Much?
Doctors recommend your cholesterol stay below 200. Here is the breakdown:
|Less than 200||Desirable|
|240 and above||High|
|LDL Cholesterol||LDL - Cholesterol Category|
|Less than 100||Optimal|
|100-129||Near optimal/above optimal|
|190 and above||Very high|
HDL (good) cholesterol protects against heart disease, so for HDL, higher numbers are better. A level less than 40 is low and is considered a major risk factor because it increases your risk for developing heart disease. HDL levels of 60 or more help to lower your risk for heart disease.
Triglyceride levels that are borderline high (150-199) or high (200 or more) may require treatment in some people.
5) Can I Lower My Risk for Heart Disease If I Lower My Cholesterol?
Your risk for heart disease is lower when you have low total cholesterol and low LDL.
6) What Makes My Cholesterol Levels Go Up?
Eating foods such as meats, whole milk dairy products, egg yolks, and some kinds of fish can make your cholesterol levels go up. Being overweight can make your bad cholesterol go up and your good cholesterol go down. Also, after women go through menopause, their bad cholesterol levels tend to go up.
7) What Can I Do To Lower My Cholesterol Levels?
You can lower your cholesterol levels by making changes to your lifestyle. Here are some tips.
- Eat foods with less fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Take off the skin and fat from meat, poultry and fish.
- Broil, bake, roast, or poach instead of frying foods.
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables everyday.
- Eat lots of cereals, breads, rice, and pasta made from whole grains, such as whole wheat bread or spaghetti.
- Get lots of exercise everyday. Talk to your doctor about what are the safest and best ways for you to exercise.
- Lose weight if you are overweight.
- Stop smoking.
- Take your high blood cholesterol medication as prescribed by your doctor.
8) What Medications Are Used to Treat High Cholesterol?
Cholesterol-lowering drugs include:
Cholesterol-lowering medicine is most effective when combined with a low-cholesterol diet.
9) If a Product's Package Reads "Low Cholesterol," Does That Mean That The Product Is Low in Fat and Safe To Eat?
Not necessarily. Numerous foods marked "low cholesterol" can contain oils that may be high in saturated fats, which are not considered healthy. In addition, unsaturated fats like vegetable oil also can be high in calories. The total amount of fat in your diet should be kept to about 20-30 percent of your daily intake.
10) At What Age Should People Begin Having Their Cholesterol Checked?
It is important to have your cholesterol level checked when you are young, since clogging of the arteries (atherosclerosis) is a gradual process that takes many years. Total cholesterol should be measured at least every five years starting at age 20.
Note: If you have high cholesterol and your doctor has told you there may be an underlying genetic cause, you may want to have your children, under age 20, get their cholesterol levels tested. Talk to your children's health care providers about cholesterol testing.
Reviewed by the doctors in the Department of Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation at The Cleveland Clinic Heart Center.
SOURCE: American Heart Association
Edited by Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD on November 01, 2005
Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2005
©2005-2007 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top High Cholesterol: Frequently Asked Questions Related Articles
Blood Disorders QuizExactly what is sickle cell anemia? Learn about sickle cell and other diseases by testing your IQ with the Blood and Bleeding Disorders Quiz.
Coronary Artery Disease Screening Tests (CAD)
Coronary heart disease or coronary heart disease (CAD) screening tests can be used to potentially prevent a heart attack or cardiac event in a person without heart disease symptoms, and can assist in diagnosing heart disease in individuals with heart disease symptoms. Examples of coronary heart disease tests include:
- electrocardiogram (ECC, EKG),
- exercise stress test,
- radionuclide stress test,
- stress echocardiography,
- pharmacologic stress test,
- CT coronary angiogram, and
- coronary angiogram.
Dementia SlideshowWhat is dementia? Learn about dementia disorders such as Lewy Body Dementia, Alzheimer's disease (AD), Vascular (multi-infarct) dementia (MID), and more. Discover dementia stages, signs of dementia, causes, diagnosis, treatments, and medications.
Diabetes MellitusDiabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. The two types of diabetes are referred to as type 1 (insulin dependent) and type 2 (non-insulin dependent). Symptoms of diabetes include increased urine output, thirst, hunger, and fatigue. Treatment of diabetes depends on the type.
Female Screening TestsWhat is a health screening? Why is it important to know your blood pressure? How long will your health screening take? Learn about wellness screenings for women for breast cancer, HIV, diabetes, osteoporosis, skin cancer, and more.
Fat-Fighting FoodsLearn about fat-fighting foods such as grapefruit, hot peppers, vinegar, and more. Discover the benefits along with surprising facts about how they may fight fat.
HDL vs. LDL Cholesterol Differences
HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or the "good" cholesterol, and LDL (low-density lipoprotein), or the "bad" cholesterol, are lipoproteins that carry cholesterol through the veins and arteries of the body. HDL and LDL combined, is your "total" blood cholesterol. The difference between the two are that high levels of the "good," or HDL cholesterol, may protect against narrowing of the blood vessels in the body, which protects you against heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. But high levels of LDL, or the "bad" cholesterol, may worsen the narrowing of the blood vessels in the body, which puts you at a greater risk of stroke, heart attack, and cardiovascular diseases, some of which are life threatening.
Triglycerides are found in body fat and from the fats you eat. Triglycerides levels in the blood reflect what you have eaten recently. HDL and LDL cholesterol levels show what you have been eating over a long period of time. If you eat a fatty meal your triglyceride levels will be elevated for a short period of time. If you continue to eat a diet high in fat your triglyceride levels will continue to rise. The liver transfers the triglycerides into body fat, or cholesterol, which raises LDL and lowers HDL levels in the blood.
Healthy (normal) total blood cholesterol levels are determined by the levels of HDL, LDL, and triglycerides in the blood. Talk with your doctor or other health care professional if you are concerned about your cholesterol levels, which can easily be determined with a simple blood test.
VLDL, or very-low- lipoproteins, is a third type of cholesterol. VLDL is another type of "bad" cholesterol that the liver produces, which contains a high amount of triglycerides.
REFERENCE: American Heart Association. "HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides." Updated: Jul 05, 2017.
Heart Attack Symptoms and Early Warning Signs
Recognizing heart attack symptoms and signs can help save your life or that of someone you love. Some heart attack symptoms, including left arm pain and chest pain, are well known but other, more nonspecific symptoms may be associated with a heart attack. Nausea, vomiting, malaise, indigestion, sweating, shortness of breath, and fatigue may signal a heart attack. Heart attack symptoms and signs in women may differ from those in men.
Heart Disease QuizTake our Heart Disease Quiz to get answers and facts about high cholesterol, atherosclerosis prevention, and the causes, symptoms, treatments, testing, and procedures for medically broken hearts.
Heart SymptomsHeart attacks symptoms vary greatly for men and women, from anxiety and fatigue to nausea and sweating. Learn the warning signs of a heart attack and know the symptoms that may require an immediate trip to the hospital.
Elevated homocysteine levels in the blood called hyperhomocysteinemia, is a sign that the body isn't producing enough of the amino acid homocysteine. is a rare and serious condition that may be inherited (genetic). People with homocystinuria die at an early age. Symptoms of hyperhomocysteinemia include developmental delays, osteoporosis, blood clots, heart attack, heart disease, stroke, and visual abnormalities.
There are other causes of hyperhomocysteinemia, for example, alcoholism.
Supplementing the diet with folic acid and possibly vitamins B6 and B12 supplements can lower homocysteine levels. Currently there is no direct proof that taking folic acid and B vitamins lower homocysteine levels and prevent heart attacks and strokes. Talk to your doctor if you feel you need to have your homocysteine blood levels checked.
Hormone TherapyEstrogen therapy, estrogen/progestin therapy, and hormone therapy are terms that refer to the administration of estrogen or estrogen/progestin for the purpose of suppressing hot flashes. Side effects of hormone therapy include:
- breast pain,
- blood clots,
- breast cancer,
- heart disease,
- abnormal vaginal bleeding,
- and uterine cancer.
How to Lower Triglycerides Naturally
Trigylcerides are fatty molecules that travel in the bloodstream. Excess sugar and fat can increase triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are also manufactured in the liver. The body uses triglycerides for energy, but excess triglycerides are a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and obesity. Many lifestyle factors can influence triglyceride levels.
Obesity (Weight Loss)Obesity is the state of being well above one's normal weight. A person has traditionally been considered to be obese if they are more than 20% over their ideal weight. That ideal weight must take into account the person's height, age, sex, and build.
Peripheral Vascular Disease
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) refers to diseases of the blood vessels (arteries and veins) located outside the heart and brain. While there are many causes of peripheral vascular disease, doctors commonly use the term peripheral vascular disease to refer to peripheral artery disease (peripheral arterial disease, PAD), a condition that develops when the arteries that supply blood to the internal organs, arms, and legs become completely or partially blocked as a result of atherosclerosis. Peripheral artery disease symptoms include intermittent leg pain while walking, leg pain at rest, numbness in the legs or feet, and poor wound healing in the legs or feet.
Treatment for peripheral artery disease include lifestyle measures, medication, angioplasty, and surgery.
Triglyceride TestTriglycerides are a common form of fat that we digest. Triglycerides are the main ingredient in animal fats and vegetable oils. Elevated levels of triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, fatty liver disease, and pancreatitis. Elevated levels of triglycerides are also associated with diseases like diabetes, kidney disease, and medications (for example, diuretics, birth control pills, and beta blockers). Dietary changes, and medication if necessary can help lower triglyceride blood levels.
Have High Triglycerides QuizWhat are triglycerides? Triglycerides are particles in the blood that transport fat. They can put you at risk for serious diseases if they are not monitored and addressed. Take the quiz to learn what you can do.