High cholesterol | Cholesterol levels | Symptoms and causes

High cholesterol | Cholesterol levels | Symptoms and causes

High cholesterol is a severe issue in the United States. According to the Center for Diseases Control (CDC), about 94 million adults in the U.S over the age of twenty have blood cholesterol levels that are considered high. 

But the problem with high cholesterol is, it typically does not show any symptoms, so you may have high cholesterol and not even be aware of it. High cholesterol may lead to a heart attack and stroke, which can be fatal if left untreated.

Keep reading to learn more about High Cholesterol.

What is High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the walls of our blood vessels. It produces hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, and it also is used to make bile which helps break down fat. Regulation of cholesterol levels is crucial because it helps maintain the health of your body, especially your blood vessels.

High cholesterol or hypercholesterolemia is an excess amount of cholesterol in the blood. If there is too much cholesterol in your blood, cholesterol can deposit itself on your blood vessels’ walls, which causes damage to the vessels, which over time may lead to heart disease or a heart attack.

HDL and LDL are the two categories of cholesterol.

HDL Cholesterol (High-density lipoprotein): The good Cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, helps remove excess cholesterol from the blood.

LDL Cholesterol (Low-density lipoprotein): The bad Cholesterol LDL cholesterol deposits itself on the walls of the blood vessels. It results in a thickening of the wall and a narrowing of your blood vessels.

Triglycerides: These are fats found in your blood. They typically come from consuming too many fatty foods or carbohydrates. 

Whenever your body cannot use all the calories you eat right away, it puts them into triglycerides. Your fat cells store these triglycerides, and it also circulates triglycerides through your body using lipoproteins.

Having high triglyceride levels is a sign that you regularly consume more calories than your body can use, and it increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, among other health issues.

What are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?

It is almost impossible to know if you have high cholesterol because it typically does not have symptoms. The best way to discover your cholesterol levels is through regular blood tests. 

High cholesterol can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Hence, early detection and treatment are essential.

What are the Signs of High Cholesterol?

If it exceeds 240 mg/dL, it’s considered “high.” If your LDL cholesterol is between 130 and 159 mg/dL, it’s considered “borderline high.”. If it’s over 160 mg/dL, it’s considered “high.”. You have low HDL cholesterol if it’s below 40 mg/dL.

What Causes High Cholesterol?

You may become hypercholesterolemic if you consume foods high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats. You may also become hypercholesterolemic if you are obese. Inactivity and smoking are also risk factors for high cholesterol.

It is also possible for your genes to influence your cholesterol levels. Children inherit genes from their parents, and some genes dictate how your body processes cholesterol and fats. Your chances of developing high cholesterol are higher if your parents have it.

Rarely, familial hypercholesterolemia causes high cholesterol levels, preventing your body from removing LDL from your bloodstream. Most people with this condition have cholesterol levels that are higher than 300 milligrams per deciliter. In comparison, their LDL levels are higher than 200 milligrams per deciliter, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute.

You may also be at risk for high cholesterol if you have other health conditions, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism.

Other medical conditions that can cause high cholesterol include: 

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Lupus
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes

It is also possible to have higher cholesterol levels by taking some types of medications for other health conditions, which include:

  • Organ transplant
  • Cancer
  • Acne
  • High blood pressure

Complications Associated with High Cholesterol

If you have high cholesterol for an extended time, it can build plaque in your arteries, known as atherosclerosis or arterial hardening. 

Over time, deposits of cholesterol in your arteries narrow your arteries and reduce their flexibility. It is this narrowing that can cause a heart attack or stroke.


Changing your lifestyle can help you prevent high cholesterol before it occurs by helping lower your cholesterol. You can prevent high cholesterol by:

  • Eating healthy
  • Exercising regularly
  • Staying active
  • Quit smoking
  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Moderately consume animal fats and healthy fats
  • Reduce your alcohol intake
  • Manage stress

Medications for High Cholesterol

Your cholesterol may need to be lowered by medicine if:

  • You haven’t seen any improvement in your cholesterol level despite changing your lifestyle and diet.
  • There’s a high risk of you having a heart attack or stroke.

Speak with your doctor about the medicines you can take.

Typically, high cholesterol is treated with statins, which are available as pills or injections and lower cholesterol levels. Side effects of statins include muscle pain, gastrointestinal problems, and feeling unusually tired or physically weak.

There are also alternative cholesterol-lowering medications like, 

  • ezetimibe, fibrates, and bile acid sequestrants (also known as resins)
  • injections like alirocumab and evolocumab

Final Words on High Cholesterol

As a general rule, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommend that you get your first cholesterol screening between 9 and 11 years of age, followed by a cholesterol screening every five years after that.

The NHLBI further suggests that cholesterol screening should occur every one to two years for men and women aged 45 to 65. Those over 65 should have their cholesterol checked annually.

Your doctor may recommend more frequent testing if your results aren’t within the safe ranges. You may have to undergo more frequent tests if you have a family history of high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure – your doctor might also suggest more frequent tests.