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How to tell if you have high cholesterol – Medical News Today

High cholesterol can increase the risk of several heart-related health conditions. Regular screening and healthy lifestyle habits can help people maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is essential for the body to function. However, having high cholesterol can increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease.
High cholesterol does not cause symptoms, so a person will need to undergo screening to find out their cholesterol levels.
People with high cholesterol can take steps to lower it, such as cutting down on saturated fats and exercising.
This article reviews what high cholesterol is, how doctors check for it, risk factors, prevention tips, and more.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance in the blood. The body needs it for several functions, including:
Cholesterol comes from two sources: the liver and the diet. The liver produces all the cholesterol the body needs to perform essential functions.
A person can also consume cholesterol in food, which doctors call dietary cholesterol. Cholesterol is in animal foods, such as meat, eggs, and dairy, but not plant-based foods.
There are two main types of cholesterol:
Learn more about the difference between HDL and LDL cholesterol here.
While cholesterol is essential, having too much of it may cause health issues. When there is too much cholesterol in the blood, cholesterol can build up in the arteries, causing them to narrow. This may lead to heart-related health conditions such as:
When doctors describe a person’s cholesterol as high, they are usually referring to total cholesterol.
Doctors measure cholesterol in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
Non-HDL cholesterol is a person’s total cholesterol minus their HDL. It includes LDL and other types of cholesterol, such as very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL).
The following tables show healthy levels of cholesterol based on a person’s age and sex:
Learn more about cholesterol levels here.
High cholesterol levels do not cause symptoms. Therefore, a person will not know whether they have high cholesterol without a screening.
People of all ages should get their cholesterol checked regularly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following schedule:
Healthcare professionals call a cholesterol test a “lipid panel” because it measures the amounts of cholesterol and other fats, or lipids, in the blood. The test is usually simple and quick and can happen at a doctor’s office or another healthcare facility.
Some people may need to fast for several hours before the test. A healthcare professional should give them plenty of warning if this is the case.
A healthcare professional will draw a sample of blood from a vein, usually in the arm. They will send the sample to a laboratory for analysis. Typically, the results are available within a few days.
The results include a person’s levels of the following:
High LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels can increase a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Learn more about cholesterol screening here.
The liver makes all the cholesterol the body needs to function. However, diet, exercise, and other factors can influence the amount of LDL cholesterol the liver makes.
Possible causes of high LDL cholesterol include:
Other causes include:
Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing high cholesterol. People may be able to modify some but not others.
Modifiable risk factors may include:
Nonmodifiable risk factors can include:
A person can lower their cholesterol levels and prevent them from increasing. Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits can help people lower their cholesterol levels gradually. In some cases, doctors may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications.
People can take the following steps to help lower their cholesterol:
Learn more about natural ways to lower cholesterol without medication.
Healthy adults should have a cholesterol test every 4–6 years. Children should have a test once between ages 9 and 11 and again between 17 and 21. People with underlying conditions should have more frequent tests, following a doctor’s recommendations.
A person should consult a doctor if they experience the following symptoms of heart disease:
A person should call 911 or their local emergency number if they have symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.
Stroke symptoms include:
Below are some common heart attack symptoms and what to do in an emergency.
Heart attacks occur when there is a lack of blood supply to the heart. Symptoms include:
If someone has these symptoms:
If a person stops breathing before emergency services arrive, perform manual chest compressions:
Use an automatic external defibrillator (AED) available in many public places:
A person with high cholesterol can lower it by making any necessary lifestyle changes and, in some cases, using medications.
Successful management of cholesterol levels can help lower a person’s overall risk of potentially life threatening conditions such as stroke and heart attack.
Learn about reducing cholesterol and how long it takes.
Cholesterol is essential to the body, but having too much in the blood can increase a person’s risk of heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Factors such as diet and weight can affect a person’s cholesterol levels. Healthy lifestyle habits can help a person lower their cholesterol levels or prevent high cholesterol.
Adults without underlying health conditions should have a cholesterol test every 4–6 years, while those at higher risk — including those with heart disease or diabetes — may need additional screenings.
Last medically reviewed on November 3, 2022
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