What is high 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 usually a slow process that gets worse as you get older.
To understand what happens, think about how a clog forms in the pipe under a kitchen sink. Like the buildup of grease in the pipe, the buildup of cholesterol narrows your arteries and makes it harder for blood to flow through them. It reduces the amount of blood that gets to your body tissues, including your heart. This can lead to serious problems, including heart attack and stroke.
Your cholesterol is measured by a blood test:
What are the different kinds of cholesterol?
What are the symptoms?
High cholesterol doesn't make you feel sick. By the time you find out you have it, it may already be narrowing your arteries. So it is very important to start treatment even though you may feel fine.
What causes high cholesterol?
Many things can cause high cholesterol, including:
How is high cholesterol diagnosed?
You need a blood test to check your cholesterol. There are several kinds of tests:
How is it treated?
If you have high cholesterol, you need treatment to lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. The two main treatments are lifestyle changes and medicine.
Some lifestyle changes are important for everyone with high cholesterol. Your doctor will probably want you to:
Changing old habits may not be easy, but it is very important to help you live a healthier and longer life. Having a plan can help. Start with small steps. For example, commit to adding one fruit or one vegetable a day for a week. Instead of having dessert, take a short walk.
If these lifestyle changes don't lower your cholesterol enough, or if your risk of heart attack is high, you may also need to take a cholesterol-lowering medicine, such as a statin. Knowing your heart attack risk is important, because it helps you and your doctor decide how to treat your cholesterol.
To find out your risk, use the Interactive Tool: Are You at Risk for a Heart Attack?
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