About 38% of American adults have high cholesterol (total blood cholesterol ≥ 200 mg/dL). Too much cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the United States. High cholesterol has no signs or symptoms, so the only way to know if you have it is to get your cholesterol checked.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood. Your body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, but high levels of cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.
What is High Cholesterol?
High levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol cause plaque (fatty deposits) to build up in your blood vessels. This may lead to heart attack, stroke, or other health problems.
Note: High levels of “good” HDL cholesterol may actually lower your risk for health problems. HDL cholesterol carries cholesterol and plaque buildup from your arteries to the liver, so it can be flushed out of the body.
What is a normal cholesterol level and what cholesterol level is high risk?
What is a healthy cholesterol level by age?
Your cholesterol numbers show how much cholesterol is circulating in your blood. Your HDL (“good” cholesterol) is the one number you want to be high (ideally above 60). Your LDL (“bad” cholesterol) should be below 100. Your total should be below 200. Talk with your provider about what your results mean for you and how to manage your cholesterol.
For more information on your cholesterol numbers and what they mean see the Cleveland Clinic's Health Library article.
When should you see a doctor for high cholesterol?
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a person's first cholesterol screening should occur between the ages of 9 and 11, and then be repeated every five years after that.
How often should I get my cholesterol checked?
The NHLBI recommends that cholesterol screenings occur every one to two years for men ages 45 to 65 and for women ages 55 to 65. People over 65 should receive cholesterol tests annually.
Is all cholesterol bad for you?
Some types of cholesterol are essential for good health. Your body needs cholesterol to perform important jobs, such as making hormones and building cells. Cholesterol travels through the blood on proteins called lipoproteins. Two types of lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout the body:
LDL (low-density lipoprotein), sometimes called “bad” cholesterol, makes up most of your body’s cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease and stroke.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or “good” cholesterol, carries cholesterol back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.
When your body has too much LDL cholesterol, it can build up in the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called plaque. As your blood vessels build up plaque over time, the insides of the vessels narrow. This narrowing can restrict and eventually block blood flow to and from your heart and other organs. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can cause angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.
What is Familial Hypercholesterolemia?
Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a common life-threatening genetic condition that causes high cholesterol. Untreated, FH leads to early heart attacks and heart disease.
Find out more at Familyheart.org
Cholesterol Quick Facts
High blood cholesterol typically has no signs or symptoms but can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
There are two types of blood cholesterol: LDL (“bad”) and HDL (“good”). Too much LDL cholesterol or not enough HDL cholesterol in the body can cause a buildup, called “plaque”, on the walls of blood vessels.
Sleep helps heal and repair your heart and blood vessels. The recommended amount for adults is 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day.
Check. Change. Control. Calculator - American Heart Association (AHA)
Thoughtful Talks with My Health Care Professional: My Cholesterol Treatment Plan (American Heart Association): A checklist (PDF) that you and your health care professional can go through to determine your risk and the best treatment options for you.
Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention: The mission of the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (DHDSP) is to provide public health leadership to improve cardiovascular health for all, reduce the burden, and eliminate disparities associated with heart disease and stroke.
My Cholesterol Guide (AHA)
Cholesterol - National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)