What is a High Blood Cholesterol Level? (Risk,Causes, and Solutions)
Lavern Davidhizar, DO
Cholesterol can be your friend or enemy. When it’s at normal levels, your body
requires it to function optimally. But at higher levels, it's a silent danger putting you
at risk for a number of conditions, specifically heart disease and having a heart
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol has natural functions that are important and can be found in each of
your body's cells. Your body manufacturers it, but you can also get it from the food
you eat. It’s fat-like and waxy looking and is oil-based. Because of this, it doesn't
combine with your blood, which is water-based.
You may have heard the terms LDL and HDL when talking about cholesterol. These
are lipoproteins, and your blood carries your cholesterol through these
lipoproteins. Let’s take a look at these two important components of cholesterol in
1) “Bad” Cholesterol Explained. Your LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is known as
your “bad” cholesterol. Cholesterol particles are transported by LDL through your
body. This type of cholesterol builds up in your artery walls and makes them
narrow and hard. This buildup can narrow your arteries, and is known as
atherosclerosis. When you have atherosclerosis you have plaque formed in your
arteries, which can restricts your blood flow, potentially leading to high blood
pressure and a heart attack.
Over 31 percent (73.5 million) American adults have high LDL, or high “bad”
2) “Good” Cholesterol Explained. Your HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, is known
as your “good” cholesterol, because it acts like a sweeper removing bad cholesterol from
your arteries. Low levels of the HDL cholesterol increases your risk of having a
There are four main functions of cholesterol that keep us alive. These functions
Desirable Cholesterol Readings
Below are the generally desirable cholesterol levels as currently reported by the
National Institutes of Health. Keep in mind that there may be some variation
depending on your gender, age and lab where you received your cholesterol
testing. Always discuss your specific test results with your physician.
Total Cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL.
LDL Cholesterol (i.e. Bad cholesterol): Less than 100 mg/DL optimal. 100-129mg/dL is near optimal.
HDL Cholesterol (i.e. Good cholesterol): 40-59 mg/dL (and the higher the better).
What is High Blood Cholesterol?
This is a condition where the cholesterol levels in your blood are too high. High
blood cholesterol levels or high levels of LDL puts you a greater risk of developing
heart disease or having a heart attack. If you already have heart disease, higher
levels of blood cholesterol can increase your chances of having a heart attack.
Risks of High Cholesterol in the Blood
When you have high cholesterol in the blood, it disrupts your body's natural blood
flow. There are a number of factors that put you at risk and contribute to high
cholesterol. Some of these factors include:
Having an Unhealthy Diet. If you consume trans fats, which are typically found in a
number of commercially baked crackers and cookies or saturated fat, which is
found in some animal products, it can increase your cholesterol level. Eating a poor
diet that includes high cholesterol foods raises your total cholesterol. Some of
these foods include:
These are just some types of food you should avoid if possible that may increase
your cholesterol levels.
Being Obese. If your BMI or body mass index is 30 or higher, it can increase your
risk of high blood cholesterol.
Being Sedentary. When you exercise, it helps increase your HDL levels as well as
increases the size of LDL cholesterol particles, which helps to make it less
Smoking. Smoking cigarettes damages your blood vessel walls which makes them
more prone to fatty deposit accumulation. Smoking also lowers your HDL
Having Diabetes. When you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels are high, which
can lower HDL cholesterol and increase LDL cholesterol. The lining of your arteries
can also get damaged by high blood sugar.
There are other high cholesterol causes that you can't do anything about. These
Being of a Certain Gender and Age. Your cholesterol levels typically increase as
you get older. If you are a woman, your LDL levels start rising at the age of
Having a Family History. High blood cholesterol tends to run in families, and the
amount of cholesterol that your body will make is determined by your genes.
Causes of High Blood Cholesterol Levels
The causes and risk factors of elevated blood cholesterol levels are highly related.
As mentioned, there are both modifiable and non-modifiable factors that may be
the cause of high cholesterol.
A couple modifiable factors are exercise and your diet in that you can control these
factors that put you at risk and reduce your chances of a spike in your cholesterol
levels. Obesity and being overweight are also modifiable causal factors that can be
managed through regular exercise and eating healthy.
A non-modifiable cause would be genetics and heredity or family history of high
Solutions for High Blood Cholesterol Levels
Blood testing is the only way to be diagnosed with high blood cholesterol. You
should have your levels tested every five years at a minimum if you are over 20
years old. You’ll need cholesterol testing more frequently as you age, and
particularly if you have high cholesterol and are on medications for it.
For the test to be accurate, you need to fast a minimum of 12 hours before your
test. Testing will also provide information on triglyceride, HDL cholesterol and total
According to the CDC, only 29 percent (1 in 3 adults) who have high LDL
cholesterol levels is able to get it under control. Lowering your LDL cholesterol
level so that it reduces your risk of a heart attack or heart disease is the primary
goal of treatment.
There are basically two main ways that you can lower your LDL cholesterol. These
include lifestyle changes and medications.
1. Lifestyle changes. This includes eating a diet that is low in cholesterol foods,
exercising, stopping smoking, and managing your weight.
Exercise: Exercising a minimum of 30 minutes each day to raise your good
cholesterol. Start your exercise regimen in moderation if you are just starting
out, and talk to your physician about starting an exercise program. Even though
exercising doesn't have a big effect on LDL, through being physically active, you
can improve your HDL level, insulin sensitivity, and triglyceride levels — all of
which can help to decrease your heart disease risk. Staying active combined
with a healthy diet can help you be more successful with other lifestyle
modifications which enhance your heart risk profile.
Quit Smoking: When you quit smoking, it can help to boost your HDL levels and
decrease your risk of having a heart attack.
Healthy Weight: Maintaining a healthy weight can help with managing your
2. Medications. These are lipid or cholesterol-lowering drugs your doctor
prescribes you reduce your LDL levels.
statin treatment if you have a higher risk of heart disease or heart attack. If not,
they will usually begin your lip-lowering therapy with diet and exercise
intervention to maintain satisfactory cholesterol levels.
are typically recommended first since they help to reduce your risk of stroke
and heart attack.
There are a variety of statin drugs which are available only by prescription. Your
doctor will decide which statin medication is best for your individual case. Some
common statin medications include:
If you have any questions about your cholesterol including, testing and/or treatment, feel free to contact Family Medical Clinic in Soldotna today at (907) 262-7566.