Cholesterol is a fat (also called a lipid) that your body needs to work properly. Cholesterol levels that are too high can increase your chance of getting heart disease, stroke, and other problems. The medical term for high blood cholesterol is hyperlipidemia.
There are many types of cholesterol. The ones talked about most are:
- Total cholesterol – all the cholesterols combined
- High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – often called “good” cholesterol
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – often called “bad” cholesterol
For most people, abnormal cholesterol levels are the result of an unhealthy lifestyle — most commonly, eating a diet that is high in fat. Other lifestyle factors include being overweight, heavy alcohol use, lack of exercise and leading an inactive lifestyle. Diabetes and an underactive thyroid gland may lead to high cholesterol levels. Other illnesses that may raise cholesterol levels include polycysic ovarian syndrome and kidney disease
Higher levels of female hormones increase or change cholesterol levels. This may include women who take birth control pills or estrogen , or who are pregnant, medicines such as certain 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. Smoking does not cause higher cholesterol levels, but it can reduce your HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
A cholesterol test is done to diagnose hyperlipidemia. Everyone should have their first screening test by age 35 in men, and age 45 in women. General targets for cholesterol levels are:
- LDL: less than 2.5 mmol/L (lower numbers are better)
- HDL: more than 1.0 mmol/L (high numbers are better)
- Total cholesterol: less than 5.5 (lower numbers are better)
- Triglycerides: less than 1.5 mmol/L (lower numbers are better)
There are steps everyone can take to improve their cholesterol levels, and help prevent heart disease and a heart attack. Some key lifestyle changes include, eating foods that are naturally low in fat, avoiding foods that are high in saturated fat, exercising regularly, losing weight if you are overweight, quitting smoking.
Your doctor may want you to take medicine for your cholesterol if lifestyle changes do not work. This will depend on your age, whether or not you have heart disease or other blood flow problems, whether you smoke or are overweight, whether you have high blood pressure or diabetes.
There are several types of drugs to help lower blood cholesterol levels, and they work in different ways. Some are better at lowering LDL cholesterol, some are good at lowering triglycerides, while others help raise HDL cholesterol. 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.