Font Size

High Cholesterol (cont.)


What Are High Cholesterol Symptoms and Signs?

High cholesterol is a risk factor for other illnesses and by itself does not cause symptoms. Routine screening blood tests may reveal elevate cholesterol levels in the blood.

When and whom should have their cholesterol checked?

The National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines suggest that everyone aged 20 years and older should have their blood cholesterol level measured at least once every 5 years. It is best to have a blood test called a lipoprotein profile to find out your cholesterol numbers.

Is There a Test for High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol levels in the body are be measured by blood testing. In addition to cholesterol and its different types, triglyceride levels can also be included in a lipid (fat) profile.

The commonly measured part of the lipoprotein profile blood test includes:

  • Total cholesterol
  • High density lipoprotein (HDL)
  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL)
  • Triglyceride

What Do High Cholesterol Numbers Mean (Charts)?

High cholesterol is a risk factor for ASCVD including heart attack, TIA, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. The health-care professional and the patient can use the results to decide whether medications may be helpful in lowering cholesterol levels and decreasing the risk of future illness.

Blood test interpretation

Total cholesterol
Less than 200 mg/dL: desirable
200-239 mg/dL: borderline high risk
240 and over: high risk
HDL (high density lipoprotein)
Less than 40 mg/dL (men), less than 50 mg/dL (women): increased risk of heart disease
Greater than 60mg/dL: some protection against heart disease
LDL (low density lipoprotein)
Less than 100 mg/dL: optimal
100-129 mg/dL: near optimal/above optimal
130-159 mg/dL: borderline high
160- 189 mg/dL: high
190 mg/dL and above: very high
Less than n150 mg/dL: normal
150-199 mg/dL: borderline to high
200-499mg/dL: high
Above 500 mg/dL: very high

Is High Cholesterol Dangerous (Risk Factors)?

High cholesterol is just one of several risk factors for coronary heart disease. A health-care professional will consider a person's overall risk when assessing their cholesterol levels and discussing treatment options.

Risk factors are conditions that increase a person's risk for developing heart disease. Some risk factors can be changed and others cannot. In general, the more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance of developing coronary heart disease. Some risk factors can be controlled; however, some cannot be controlled.

Risk factors that cannot be controlled include:

  • Age (45 years or older for men; 55 years or older for women)
  • Family history of early heart disease (father or brother affected before age 55 years; mother or sister affected before age 65 years)

Risk factors that can be controlled include:

If a person has high lipoproteins and thus high cholesterol, their doctor will work with them to target their levels with dietary and drug treatment. Depending on a person's risk factors for heart disease, target goals may differ for lowering their LDL cholesterol.

What Are the Diet Guidelines for High Cholesterol?

The National Cholesterol Education Program has created dietary guidelines.

  • NCEP dietary guidelines are:
    • Total fat: less than 30% of daily caloric intake
    • Saturated fat: less than 7% of daily caloric intake
    • Polyunsaturated fat (found in vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, leafy greens): less than or equal to 10% of daily caloric intake
    • Monounsaturated fat: approximately 10%-15% of daily caloric intake
    • Cholesterol: less than 200 milligrams per day
    • Carbohydrates: 50%-60% of daily caloric intake
  • Some people are able to reduce fat and dietary cholesterol with vegetarian diets.
  • Stanol esters can be included in the diet and may reduce LDL by about 14%. Products containing stanol esters include margarine substitutes (marketed as brand names Benecol and Take Control).
  • People with higher triglycerides may benefit from a diet that is higher in monounsaturated fat and lower in carbohydrates, particularly simple sugars. A common source of monounsaturated fat is olive oil.

What Foods Help Lower Cholesterol Levels?

Foods may lower cholesterol levels in the body by different mechanisms. High fiber foods bind cholesterol and make it difficult to be absorbed. Some plants contain stanols and sterols, which prevent the cholesterol from being absorbed into the blood stream. Examples of cholesterol lowering foods include:
  • Oats, barley and other whole grains
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Apples, strawberries, grapes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Soy
  • Fatty fish
  • Foods that are manufactured or fortified to contain sterols and stanols, like some orange juices and margarine

What Foods Should You Avoid Because They Raise Cholesterol Levels?

There are some foods that have a tendency to increase cholesterol and should be avoided if possible:
  • Egg yolks
  • Shellfish
  • Dairy products including butter and some cheeses, including cream cheese
  • Processed meats like bacon
  • Baked goods made with animal fats like lard
  • Fast foods like hamburgers, French fries, and fried chicken
  • Snack foods like microwave popcorn because of their high salt and butter content
  • Red meats

What Other Lifestyle Changes Help Lower Cholesterol?

In addition to eating a heart-healthy and cholesterol-lowering diet other lifestyle changes can help lower cholesterol; and therefore, lower the risk of heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease.
  • Exercise: 30 minutes a day can raise HDL levels (the good cholesterol). If you are just beginning to exercise start in moderation. If you have underlying medical problems including heart or lung disease, check with your health-care professional for guidance about what exercise program might be best for you.
  • Stop smoking: Smoking increases HDL levels, but also by itself decreases the risk of heart attack almost immediately.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Even a little lost weight can help manage cholesterol levels.
  • Activity: Although exercise has little effect on LDL, aerobic exercise may improve insulin sensitivity, HDL, and triglyceride levels and may thus reduce the risk of heart disease. People who exercise and control their diet appear to be more successful with long-term lifestyle modifications that improve their heart risk profile.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/21/2017

Must Read Articles Related to High Cholesterol

Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic Exercise Aerobic exercise is moderate physical activity that's sustained for a few minutes with the goal of improving health. Walking, biking, swimming, dancing, and jog...learn more >>
Angina Pectoris

Angina pectoris is a term to describe learn more >>

High Cholesterol and Children
Cholesterol and Children High cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary heart disease in adults, but some children may be at risk for premature coronary heart disease if they have high ...learn more >>

Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about High Cholesterol:

High Cholesterol - Symptoms

What were the symptoms of your high cholesterol?

High Cholesterol - Effective Treatments

What treatment has been effective for your high cholesterol?

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

High HDL Cholesterol (Hyperalphalipoproteinemia) »

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is positively associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

Read More on Medscape Reference »

Medical Dictionary