High cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) is known as 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. Often, there are no symptoms or obvious signs that serve as a warning until it is too late. Left untreated, it can cause heart attacks, strokes, artery narrowing and heart disease. This is why it is crucial to be screened for high cholesterol once every five years.

High cholesterol tends to run in families. Other risk factors for the condition include:

  • Obesity
  • Drinking alcohol excessively
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise

Cholesterol is a waxy substance similar to fat and made in the liver. It is needed by the body to create hormones, vitamin D and bile acids. There are two varieties of cholesterol: LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and HDL (the “good” cholesterol). An excess of LDL can create obstructions or narrowing in artery walls, increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems.

While triglycerides are not actually a type of cholesterol—they are a type of fat in the blood--they are usually part of a cholesterol screening. High triglycerides, like cholesterol, can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems.