High Cholesterol – Patient Education Overview

High cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) is a “silent killer.” It is estimated that nearly one-quarter of the population has high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are no symptoms or ominous signs that serve as a warning until it is too late. Left untreated, it can cause an increase in heart attacks, strokes, arterial narrowing and heart disease. This is why it is crucial to be screened for high cholesterol once every five years. Read more in this patient education guide.

High cholesterol does run in families. However, the following can increase your risk of developing high cholesterol:

  • Obesity
  • Drinking alcohol excessively
  • Hypertension (damaged artery walls are more vulnerable to attachment of fatty deposits)
  • Diabetes (high blood sugar lowers HDL and raises LDL)
  • Smoking (damages blood vessels making them prey to cholesterol adherence)
  • Lack of exercise (raises LDL and lowers HDL)

Though the danger of excess cholesterol has clearly been shown, there is an important function that cholesterol serves in our body.

Cholesterol, a waxy substance similar to fat and made in the liver, is needed by the body to create hormones, Vitamin D and bile acids. However, an excess of the wrong type of cholesterol can increase your risk for stroke, heart disease, heart attacks and plaque formation in the arteries.

There are two varieties of cholesterol–LDL (low density “bad” lipoproteins) and HDL (high density “good” lipoproteins)

HDL is considered the “good cholesterol” since it removes excess LDL from the bloodstream, protecting against heart disease. High levels reflect a healthy metabolic system.

LDL is considered the “bad cholesterol” since it adheres to arterial walls, creating obstructions or narrowing which increases risk of cardiovascular problems. There is a link between high levels and arterial artherosclerosis (plaque building on arterial walls causing narrowing or obstruction).

While triglycerides are not actually part of cholesterol, it is usually screened as part of the cholesterol panel since it also increases heart disease risk.


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