Symptoms of High Cholesterol

Symptoms

High cholesterol has no symptoms. A blood test is the only way to detect high cholesterol.

When to see a doctor

Ask your doctor for a baseline cholesterol test at age 20 and then have your cholesterol retested at least every five years. If your test results aren't within desirable ranges, your doctor may recommend more frequent measurements. Your doctor may also suggest you have more frequent tests if you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease or other risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes or high blood pressure.

Causes

Cholesterol is carried through your blood, attached to proteins. This combination of proteins and cholesterol is called a lipoprotein. You may have heard of different types of cholesterol, based on what type of cholesterol the lipoprotein carries. They are:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) :
    LDL, or "bad," cholesterol transports cholesterol particles throughout your body. LDL cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
  • Very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL):
    This type of lipoprotein contains the most triglycerides, a type of fat, attached to the proteins in your blood. VLDL cholesterol makes LDL cholesterol larger in size, causing your blood vessels to narrow. If you're taking cholesterol-lowering medication but have a high VLDL level, you may need additional medication to lower your triglycerides.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL):
    HDL, or "good," cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.

Factors within your control such as inactivity, obesity and an unhealthy diet contribute to high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol. Factors beyond your control may play a role, too. For example, your genetic makeup may keep cells from removing LDL cholesterol from your blood efficiently or cause your liver to produce too much cholesterol.

Risk Factors

You're more likely to have high cholesterol that can lead to heart disease if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them likely to accumulate fatty deposits. Smoking may also lower your level of HDL, or "good," cholesterol.
  • Obesity: Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk of high cholesterol.
  • Large waist circumference: Your risk increases if you are a man with a waist circumference of at least 40 inches (102 centimeters) or a woman with a waist circumference of at least 35 inches (89 centimeters).
  • Poor diet: Foods that are high in cholesterol, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, will increase your total cholesterol. Eating saturated fat, found in animal products, and trans fats, found in some commercially baked cookies and crackers, also can raise your cholesterol level.
  • Lack of exercise: Exercise helps boost your body's HDL "good" cholesterol while lowering your LDL "bad" cholesterol. Not getting enough exercise puts you at risk of high cholesterol.
  • Diabetes: High blood sugar contributes to higher LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. High blood sugar also damages the lining of your arteries.

Tests & Diagnosis

A blood test to check cholesterol levels - called a lipid panel - typically reports Total Cholesterol, LDL Cholesterol, HDL Cholesterol, and Triglycerides (a type of fat in blood). For the most accurate results, do not eat or drink anything other than water for 9 - 12 hours before the blood sample is taken.

Interpreting The Numbers

Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood in the United States.
Your doctor may determine that your cholesterol needs treatment based on the presence of heart disease or on your individual risk of heart attack, even if the cholesterol values do not seem elevated.

Total Cholesterol

U.S. Measurements Interpretation
Below 200 mg/dL Best
200-239 mg/dL Borderline high
240 mg/dL and above High

LDL Cholesterol

U.S. Measurements Interpretation
Below 70 mg/dL Best for people with heart disease
Below 100 mg/dL Best for people at risk of heart disease.
Below 70 mg/dL may be ideal for people who have heart disease.
100 - 129 mg/dL Near ideal
130 - 159 mg/dL Borderline high
160 - 189 md/dL High
190 mg/dL and above Very high

HDL Cholesterol

U.S. Measurements Interpretation
Below 40 mg/dL (men)
Below 50 mg/dL (women)
Poor
50 - 59 mg/dL Better
60 mg/dL and above Best

Triglycerides

U.S. Measurements Interpretation
Below 150 mg/dL Best
150 - 199 mg/dL Borderline high
200 - 499 mg/dL High
500 mg/dL and above Very high

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that a triglyceride level of 100 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L) or lower is considered "optimal." The AHA says this optimal level would improve your heart health. However, the AHA doesn't recommend drug treatment to reach this level. Instead, for those trying to lower their triglycerides to this level, lifestyle changes such as diet, weight loss and physical activity are encouraged. That's because triglycerides usually respond well to dietary and lifestyle changes.

Prevention

The same heart-healthy lifestyle changes that can lower your cholesterol can help prevent you from having high cholesterol in the first place. To help prevent high cholesterol, you can:

  • Lose excess weight and maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a low-fat, low-salt diet that includes many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Exercise on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all

All information for this page was found on the Mayo Clinic Website
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