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How's your cholesterol? If you think that the normal reading you got back in 2004 (or earlier) means you're in the clear, think again: Levels of the artery-clogging substance often rise with age, and cardiologists say everyone 20 or older should be screened for high cholesterol at least once every five years, with more frequent screenings for anyone deemed to be at high risk for heart disease. If it's been awhile since your last cholesterol screening, now's a good time to ask your doctor if you're due for one.

The good news? If your fasting total cholesterol level exceeds the desirable level of 200, or if your low-density lipoprotein ( LDL, or "bad”) cholesterol is not at your goal, getting it down to a safer level could be easier than you think. In fact, with simple lifestyle modifications -- and, if necessary, medicine -- people often see significant reductions in cholesterol within six weeks. 

Here are 11 tips from WebMD health experts on how to cut high cholesterol fast:

1. Set a target.

You know you've got to get your cholesterol number down, but how low do you need to go? That depends on several factors, including your personal and family history of heart disease, as well as whether you have cardiovascular risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking.

If your risk is deemed high, "most doctors will treat for a target LDL of less than 70," says James Beckerman, MD, a cardiologist in private practice in Portland, Oregon. If your risk is moderate, a target LDL of under 130 is generally OK, Beckerman says. If your risk is low, less than 160 is a reasonable target. "The trend now is to treat people earlier, especially if they have two or more risk factors," he says.

2. Consider medication.

Lifestyle modifications make sense for anyone with elevated cholesterol. But if your cardiovascular risk is high, you may also need to take a cholesterol-lowering drug. Michael Richman, MD, medical director of the Center for Cholesterol Management in Los Angeles, calls drug therapy "the only thing that will work fast" to lower high cholesterol. "Everyone should do the basics, like stopping smoking and losing weight," Richman tells WebMD. "But these things lower the risk only modestly. They're nothing to write home about."

Beckerman agrees. "Lifestyle modifications are important, but we should also be emphasizing the benefits of medication when appropriate," he says.

Several types of cholesterol-lowering medication are available, including niacin, bile acid resins, and fibrates. But statins are the treatment of choice for most individuals. "Statins can lower LDL cholesterol by 20% to 50%" says Pamela Peeke, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.