Overview of High Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that carries digested fat from your liver to parts of your body for energy and healing. Cholesterol also carries fat to storage sites in your body. Cholesterol travels in the blood in packets of lipoproteins (protein on the outside and fat on the inside). The lipoproteins are in two major forms:
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, sometimes called good cholesterol: These packets carry cholesterol to your liver for processing. More HDL cholesterol means a lower chance of heart disease.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), sometimes called bad cholesterol: Too much LDL cholesterol can build up deposits in your arteries, which can lead to heart disease
Diagnosing High Cholesterol
Your doctor can order a simple blood test, called a lipid panel test, to check your cholesterol. This is an important part of your health care that prevents heart attack and stroke.
Cardiologists recommend that everyone over the age of 20 get their cholesterol levels checked at least once every five years.
High cholesterol does not cause any symptoms by itself. Routine screening is the best way to detect this condition.
Components of a Lipid Panel Test:
- Total Cholesterol: Lower is better for your total cholesterol. You want this number to be 200 mg/dL or less.
- LDL (“Bad Cholesterol”): You want this number to be 100 mg/dL or less. 70 mg/dL is the goal for most patients with heart disease.
- HDL (“Good Cholesterol”): Higher is better for your HDL. If you are a man, you want this number to be 40 mg/dL or higher. If you are a woman, you want it to be 45 mg/dL or higher. An HDL level of 60 mg/dL may help protect you from heart disease.
- Triglycerides: Lower is better for your triglycerides. You want this number to be 150 mg/dL or less.
- Ratio of Total Cholesterol to HDL: To get this number, your doctor will divide your total cholesterol by your HDL. Lower is better. You want this ratio to be 4.5 to 1, or less.
These are general recommendations. Your doctor will develop personalized goals for your cholesterol levels, based on your overall health and other risk factors, such as family history.
Does high cholesterol run in your family? High cholesterol is a result of your diet and lifestyle choices, but it can also be genetic. If you suspect heart disease runs in your family, we can provide genetic screening to determine your risk. Our cardiac genetic counselor works in tandem with cardiologists to identify and reduce your risk for heart disease. See our Genetic Heart Disease Program for more information.
Treating High Cholesterol
High cholesterol treatment includes lifestyle changes, like eating a healthy, low-fat diet and taking medications. These are simple but invaluable steps that will reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Your Diet: What you eat can have a big effect on your cholesterol levels.
- Eat LOTS of Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables can be a great source of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber has been proven to reduce blood cholesterol levels.
- Eat More Whole Grains: These foods contain dietary fiber. Studies have linked high-fiber diets to reduced blood cholesterol. Examples are whole wheat, brown rice, oats, and barley.
- Choose Heart Healthy Proteins: These protein sources are typically lower in saturated fat than other sources. Examples are fish, egg whites, chicken, beans, unsalted nuts, and seeds. In addition, several varieties of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acid, which can help lower your triglyceride levels.
- Choose Heart Healthy Proteins: These protein sources are typically lower in saturated fat than other sources. Examples are fish, egg whites, chicken, beans, unsalted nuts, and seeds. In addition, several varieties of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acid. This type of fat can help lower your triglycerides.
- Choose Unsaturated Fats and Oils: Look for foods that are higher in unsaturated fats, and lower in saturated fats. Good choices are olive oil, canola oil, and unsalted nuts. Eating foods high in unsaturated fat may help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
- Select Low-Fat Dairy Products: “Whole” dairy products are high in fat and cholesterol. Stick with dairy products that are 1% fat or less.
- Limit Sweets and Desserts: These foods have excess sugar, fat and calories. Keep them to a minimum and enjoy in small quantities.
Your Medications: Your doctor may also prescribe a lipid medication to help improve your cholesterol levels. Lipid medications, also called blood cholesterol lowering agents or antihyperlipidemics, work in different ways.
Depending on which one you’re taking, lipid medications can lower your total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides. These medications can also treat abnormally low levels of HDL cholesterol. The most common lipid medications are called statins.
High Cholesterol In Depth
Learn more about high cholesterol from Intermountain's Patient Education Library:
Services and Programs
Services and programs at Intermountain Heart Institute for patients with high cholesterol: