High Cholesterol - Topic Overview
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of fat (lipid) in your blood. Your cells need cholesterol, and your body makes all it needs. But you also get cholesterol from the food you eat.
If you have too much cholesterol, it starts to build up in your arteries. (Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart.) This is called hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis . It is the starting point for some heart and blood flow problems. The buildup can narrow the arteries and make it harder for blood to flow through them. The buildup can also lead to dangerous blood clots and inflammation that can cause heart attacks and strokes.
There are different types of cholesterol.
Why does cholesterol matter?
Your cholesterol levels can help your doctor find out your risk for having a heart attack or stroke. But it's not just about your cholesterol. Your doctor uses your cholesterol levels plus other things to calculate your risk. These include:
What affects cholesterol levels?
Many things can affect cholesterol levels, including:
The foods you eat. Eating too much saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol can raise your cholesterol.
Being overweight. This may lower HDL ("good") cholesterol.
Being inactive. Not exercising may lower HDL ("good") cholesterol.
Age. Cholesterol starts to rise after age 20.
Family history. If family members have or had high cholesterol, you may also have it.
How is cholesterol tested?
You need a blood test to check your cholesterol.
A cholesterol test, also called a lipid panel, measures all of the fats in your blood, including total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol.
High cholesterol levels don't make you feel sick. So the blood test is the only way to know your cholesterol levels.