High Cholesterol Risk Factors

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on July 16, 2020

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and found in certain foods from animals, such as dairy products, eggs, and meat. The body needs some cholesterol in order to function properly. However, too much cholesterol can increase a person's risk of developing heart disease. There are several factors that contribute to high cholesterol -- some are controllable while others are not.

Uncontrollable High Cholesterol Risk Factors

  • Gender: After menopause, a woman's LDL cholesterol level ("bad" cholesterol) goes up, as does their risk for heart disease.
  • Age: Your risk may increase as you get older. Men aged 45 years or older and women aged 55 years or older are at increased risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.
  • Family history: Your risk of high cholesterol may increase if a father or brother was affected by early heart disease (before age 55) or a mother or sister was affected by early heart disease (before age 65).

Controllable Risk Factors for High Cholesterol Include:

  • Diet: The trans fats, saturated fat, sugar, and (to a lesser extent) cholesterol in the food you eat raise total and LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Weight: Being overweight can make your LDL cholesterol level go up and your HDL level go down.
  • Physical activity/exercise: Increased physical activity helps to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) levels. It also helps you lose weight.


WebMD Medical Reference


American Academy of Family Physicians.

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