Learn about the symptoms of high cholesterol, how it affects heart and vascular health and the steps you can take to treat it.

While some cholesterol is essential to staying in good health, having too much in the body can lead to an increased risk for conditions, such as heart disease. Staying active and maintaining a healthy weight are two great ways to avoid high cholesterol. But is there more you can do to combat it? We'll cover the different types of cholesterol as well as the causes of high cholesterol and how to treat it.

Types of cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of lipid in the blood. There are different types in your blood including:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): causes a buildup of cholesterol and other fats in the blood vessels. It is known as bad cholesterol because high levels can cause disease in the arteries and heart.
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL): can remove cholesterol and other fats from the blood. It is known as good cholesterol because it may protect against heart disease.

Causes of high cholesterol

Several factors come into play when it comes to your likelihood of having high cholesterol. Risk factors that may increase your chance of developing high cholesterol include:

  • Age: cholesterol levels tend to rise with age
  • Sex: males, females after menopause
  • Family members with high cholesterol
  • High-fat diet
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Sedentary lifestyle

It is rare for high cholesterol to cause symptoms. But high cholesterol can increase your risk of atherosclerosis, a type of vascular disease that causes a dangerous hardening of the arteries. It can block the flow of blood, and in some cases, a blocked or slowed blood flow may cause:

  • Angina
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Other serious complications

If you are concerned about your risk for high cholesterol, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss treatment options and possible next steps.

High cholesterol treatment

To test for high cholesterol, your doctor will likely conduct a physical exam and blood test. The blood test will measure lipid levels in your blood, including total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

If these tests confirm high cholesterol, your doctor will likely recommend diet and lifestyle changes. These may include:

  • Eating a healthy diet that limits saturated and trans fats
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Finding healthy ways to manage stress
  • Quitting smoking
  • Taking medication

Monitoring your cholesterol is just one of the ways you can stay on top of your cardiovascular health. To learn more about other factors that may put you at risk for developing a heart condition, take our free heart health risk assessment.