The problem with high cholesterol is that the condition does not cause symptoms in the beginning. You only get to know about it during a routine blood checkup or when you get a heart problem after several years. So, it is necessary to get your cholesterol levels checked every five years. More frequent tests may be needed for people who have been diagnosed with high blood cholesterol or those with underlying conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
High cholesterol does not cause immediate problems. The excess cholesterol gets deposited as fatty deposits (plaques) in the walls of your blood vessels. This dangerous condition is called atherosclerosis. If cholesterol levels are not controlled, the fatty deposits eventually grow and obstruct the blood flow. This can result in conditions, such as
- Angina. If atherosclerosis affects the coronary arteries (the blood vessels supplying oxygen and nutrients to the heart), you may suffer from angina. This is characterized by chest pain and breathlessness upon exertion. Angina results when there is a narrowing of any of the coronary arteries. The narrowed artery will not be able to meet the increased blood flow requirement of the heart in situations, such as increased physical activity.
- Heart attack. If any of the coronary arteries get blocked, it can result in a heart attack. It generally occurs when a plaque breaks and blocks an already narrowed coronary artery. Diabetes along with high cholesterol increases the risk of heart attack.
- Stroke. It usually occurs when the plaques rupture and block blood flow to the brain.
- Hypertension. High cholesterol levels increase the risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension).
What are the risk factors for high cholesterol?
Cholesterol is often referred to as high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL is the bad cholesterol because it is the one that forms the fatty plaques, whereas HDL is the good cholesterol because it carries excess cholesterol to the liver for elimination from the body or reutilization. Doctors are often concerned about the high levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol in your blood.
Factors that put you at risk of high cholesterol (particularly bad cholesterol)
- Unhealthy diet. A diet high in saturated fats and trans fats is a sure way to increase your blood cholesterol to unhealthy levels. Saturated fats and trans fats can be found in cookies, crackers and microwave popcorn. Regular consumption of red meat and full-fat dairy products can also increase your cholesterol levels. A diet high in sugar and low in fiber also causes your cholesterol levels to go up.
- Obesity. Being overweight, especially obese (body mass index or BMI over 30 kg/m2), increases your risk of developing high cholesterol levels.
- Sedentary lifestyle. Lack of physical activity may result in an unhealthy increase in cholesterol levels.
- Smoking. The nicotine in tobacco damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them more susceptible to developing plaques. It also affects your HDL levels.
- Age. As you age, your body’s ability to maintain the balance between HDL and LDL decreases. The body will not be able to remove LDL efficiently.
- Diabetes. Diabetes may cause a decline in HDL and an increase in LDL cholesterol levels.
- Family history. If someone in your family has a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), you are also more likely to inherit it. FH is characterized by high levels of LDL cholesterol.
How can you improve your cholesterol levels?
Maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol requires conscious efforts to include a few lifestyle modifications. These include
- Reducing your intake of saturated fats and avoiding all trans fats
- Including fibrous foods in your daily diet
- Exercising for at least 30 minutes for at least five days a week
- Quitting tobacco products
- Limiting alcohol consumption
Your doctor may prescribe you cholesterol-lowering medications, especially if you have diabetes or other underlying health conditions.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top How Dangerous Is High Cholesterol Related Articles
Cholesterol Drugs SlidesWhen diet and exercise aren't enough, should you turn to drugs? Learn cholesterol basics, drug classes, and available drugs along with their benefits and side effects.
Cholesterol Levels: What's Normal and How to Lower High CholesterolWhat do cholesterol numbers mean? LDL, HDL, good, bad, and triglycerides - Get the facts on cholesterol, blood testing, medications, and how to keep your cholesterol in check.
Cholesterol (Lowering Your Cholesterol)High cholesterol and triglyceride levels increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Getting your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in an optimal range will help protect your heart and blood vessels. Cholesterol management may include lifestyle interventions (diet and exercise) as well as medications to get your total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides in an optimal range.
Cholesterol PictureCholesterol carried in particles of low density (LDL cholesterol) is referred to as the "bad" cholesterol because elevated levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. See a picture of Cholesterol and learn more about the health topic.
Cholesterol TestA cholesterol blood test measures the amount of cholesterol in the body. There are two types of cholesterol; the "good" cholesterol or HDL, and the "bad" cholesterol or LDL. High cholesterol levels in the blood can lead to heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Learn more about cholesterol tests and how to interpret them.
HDL vs. LDL Cholesterol (Good and Bad)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.
Cholesterol QuizHigh cholesterol can be a dangerous condition. Take the Cholesterol Quiz to understand what high cholesterol means in terms of your health risks.
High Cholesterol: Frequently Asked QuestionsCholesterol occurs naturally in the body. High blood cholesterol levels increase a person's risk of developing heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, TIAs, and more. In addition to medication (fibrates, statins, bile acid sequestrants, and niacin), lifestyle changes can be made to lower blood cholesterol levels
Cholesterol: High Triglyceride Foods to AvoidHigh triglycerides increase the risk of heart disease. Lower triglyceride levels and reduce cholesterol by eating foods that promote heart health. Reduce your intake of fat and sugar and do not eat excess calories. Get adequate nutrition by eating fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.
Lower Cholesterol Levels with Diet and MedicationsHigh-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is considered "good" cholesterol because it actually works to keep the LDL or "bad" cholesterol from building up in your arteries. Foods like extra lean meats, skim milk, and vegetable-based "butter-like" substitutes may help decrease LDL levels in the bloodstream.
Lower Cholesterol TipsNeed to lower your cholesterol levels? Use these smart diet tips to quickly and easily lower your blood cholesterol levels. Choose heart-healthy foods to lower cholesterol and improve your heart health.
What Are the Normal Cholesterol Levels According to Age?Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all the cells of the body. It is a type of fat that is produced by the liver. Cholesterol also comes from animal-derived foods, such as meat and dairy products.
What Are the Causes of High Cholesterol?Your body naturally produces all the LDL (bad) cholesterol it needs. An unhealthy lifestyle – not enough exercise, too many unhealthy foods – makes your body produce more LDL cholesterol than it needs. This is the cause of high LDL cholesterol for most people.
What Are the Normal Cholesterol Levels By Age?Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all the cells of the body. It is a type of fat that is produced by the liver. Cholesterol also comes from animal-derived foods, such as meat and dairy products. It is an essential substance needed by the body for various purposes. Too much cholesterol, however, harms the body and increases the risk of various medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart diseases.
What Is the Normal Range for Cholesterol Levels?What is the normal range for cholesterol levels? Learn what cholesterol levels are, why cholesterol levels change, how doctors diagnose cholesterol levels, and what you can do to treat high cholesterol levels.
What Reduces Cholesterol Quickly?High blood cholesterol levels can be managed to a great extent with lifestyle changes. However, not taking medicine isn’t a solution because only lifestyle changes may not be sufficient to treat high cholesterol levels.