URL of this page: https://medlineplus.gov/cholesterol.html

Cholesterol

Also called: Hypercholesterolemia, Hyperlipidemia, Hyperlipoproteinemia

Summary

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that's found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol is also found in some of the foods you eat.

If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can combine with other substances in the blood to form plaque. Plaque sticks to the walls of your arteries. This buildup of plaque is known as atherosclerosis. It can lead to coronary artery disease, where your arteries become narrow or even blocked.

What are LDL and HDL?

There are two main types of cholesterol:

  • HDL stands for high-density lipoproteins. It is called the "good" cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. Your liver then removes the cholesterol from your body.
  • LDL stands for low-density lipoproteins. It is called the "bad" cholesterol because a high LDL level leads to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries.

What other health problems can high cholesterol cause?

If you have large deposits of plaque in your arteries, an area of plaque can rupture (break open). This can cause a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque. If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block blood flow in a coronary artery.

If the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle is reduced or blocked, it can cause angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.

Plaque also can build up in other arteries in your body, such as the arteries that bring oxygen-rich blood to your brain and limbs. This can lead to problems such as carotid artery disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease.

Which foods contain cholesterol?

Cholesterol is in foods that come from animal sources, such as egg yolks, meat, and cheese.

Other foods have fats that raise your cholesterol level. For example, saturated fat raises your LDL (bad) cholesterol level more than anything else in your diet. Saturated fat is found in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods.

Another type of fat, trans fats, raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. Trans fats are made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to harden it. Trans fats are in some fried and processed foods.

What else can affect my cholesterol levels?

A variety of things can affect cholesterol levels:

  • Age. Your cholesterol levels tend to rise as you get older.
  • Heredity. High blood cholesterol can run in families.
  • Weight. Being overweight or having obesity raises your cholesterol level.

How do I know if I have high cholesterol?

There are usually no signs or symptoms that you have high blood cholesterol. There is a blood test to measure your cholesterol level. If you are age 20 or older, you should have your cholesterol measured at least once every five years.

How can I lower my cholesterol?

You can lower your cholesterol through therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC). It includes a low cholesterol diet, weight management, and regular physical activity.

If TLC alone does not lower your cholesterol enough, you may also need to take medicines. There are several types of cholesterol-lowering drugs available, including statins. If you take medicines to lower your cholesterol, you still should continue with the lifestyle changes. This will keep the dose of medicine as low as possible, and lower your risk of heart diseases in other ways as well.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Start Here

Diagnosis and Tests

Prevention and Risk Factors

Treatments and Therapies

Living With

Related Issues

Specifics

Genetics

Health Check Tools

Statistics and Research

Clinical Trials

Children

Teenagers

Women

Patient Handouts