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Hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol)

Overview

Cholesterol is a type of fat in your blood. It is needed for many body functions, such as making new cells. Cholesterol is made by your body. It also comes from food you eat. High cholesterol means that you have too much of the fat in your blood. This raises your risk of a heart attack and stroke.

LDL and HDL are part of your total cholesterol. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol. High LDL can raise your risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. HDL is the “good” cholesterol. It helps clear bad cholesterol from the body. High HDL is linked with a lower risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Your cholesterol levels help your doctor find out your risk for having a heart attack or stroke. You and your doctor can talk about whether you need to lower your risk and what treatment is best for you.

A heart-healthy lifestyle along with medicines can help lower your cholesterol and your risk. The way you choose to lower your risk will depend on how high your risk is for heart attack and stroke. It will also depend on how you feel about taking medicines.

  • Symptoms

    What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?

    High cholesterol doesn't cause symptoms in most people. It's usually found during a blood test that measures cholesterol levels.

  • Course

    What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?

    High cholesterol doesn't cause symptoms in most people. It's usually found during a blood test that measures cholesterol levels.

  • Causes

    What causes high cholesterol?

    Doctors can't usually say for sure what may have caused high cholesterol. But many things can make it more likely. These things include eating too much food that contains saturated fat and having family who have or had high cholesterol.

  • Prevention

    How can you help prevent high cholesterol?

    A heart-healthy lifestyle can help you prevent high cholesterol and lower your risk for a heart attack and stroke.

    • Eat heart-healthy foods.
      • Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and other high-fiber foods.
      • Eat lean proteins, such as seafood, lean meats, beans, nuts, and soy products.
      • Eat healthy fats, such as canola and olive oil.
      • Choose foods that are low in saturated fat.
      • Limit sodium and alcohol.
      • Limit drinks and foods with added sugar.
    • Be active. Try to do moderate activity at least 2½ hours a week. Or try vigorous activity at least 1¼ hours a week. You may want to walk or try other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.
    • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
    • Don’t smoke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Diagnosis

    How is high cholesterol diagnosed?

    High cholesterol is diagnosed with a blood test. The test measures the level of total cholesterol plus the level of different types of cholesterol and fats in your blood. These include LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. High cholesterol levels don't cause symptoms. A blood test is the only way to know your cholesterol levels.

  • Treatment

    How is high cholesterol treated?

    The two main types of treatment for high cholesterol are a heart-healthy lifestyle and medicines called statins. The goal of treatment is to reduce your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. It's not to lower your cholesterol numbers alone.

    The way you choose to lower your risk will depend on how high your risk for heart attack and stroke is. It will also depend on how you feel about taking medicines. Your doctor can help you know your risk. Your doctor can also help you balance the benefits and risks of your treatment options.

    Heart-healthy lifestyle

    A heart-healthy lifestyle is always important, even if you take medicines to lower your risk.

    To be heart-healthy:

    • Eat heart-healthy foods.
    • Lose weight if you need to, and stay at a healthy weight.
    • Be active on most, if not all, days of the week.
    • Don't smoke.
    • Manage other health problems.

    Medicines

    If your chance of having a heart attack or stroke is high, you may decide to start taking medicines called statins along with having a healthy lifestyle. Statins can reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

    You may not be sure whether or not you would benefit from a statin. To help you decide, you and your doctor can look at your overall health and at any other risks you have for heart attack and stroke.

    Sometimes other medicines are also used.

    Plant products and supplements

    Some people use plant products or supplements like psyllium or red yeast rice to lower their cholesterol. These should not replace treatment recommended by your doctor. That's because research has not proved that they lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

    High cholesterol: Making changes to lower your risk of heart attack or stroke

    When you have high cholesterol, there's a lot you can do to lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Eat heart-healthy foods. Be more active. Get to a healthy weight. And don't smoke.

    Changing habits isn't easy. And those changes can feel like big ones to tackle. But you can do it. The key is to start small. By taking one small step after another, you can improve your habits and make a big difference in your risk. That's the power of small changes.

    When you're ready, you can use this information to get started.

    • Identify why you want to change.

      An important part of successful change is having your own reasons. Think about making a change in your habits, and ask yourself:

      • What's one reason to change that means a lot to me?
    • Decide which habit you'll change.

      Now, think about a change you could make to move toward a lower risk of heart attack or stroke. Ask yourself:

      • What's an important healthy change I'd like to make?
    • Choose your first small step.

      Think about the small steps that would help you reach your larger goal. Make these steps specific and within your reach—things you know you can do. Ask yourself:

      • What are some small steps I could take?
      • Which step do I feel most confident that I can take?
    • Picture success.

      Imagine it's a month from now and you've made the healthy change you chose. How will you feel about your success?

  • When to Call

    High cholesterol: When to call

    Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

    • You need help making lifestyle changes.
    • You have questions about your medicine.
  • Self-Care

    How can you care for yourself when you have high cholesterol?

    Taking your medicine correctly and having a heart-healthy lifestyle can help lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke. This lifestyle is important, even if you also take medicines for high cholesterol.

    To have a heart-healthy lifestyle:

    • Eat heart-healthy foods. These foods include vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains. Limit things that aren't so good for your heart, like sodium, alcohol, and sugar.
    • Be active. Try to do moderate activity at least 2½ hours a week. Or try to do vigorous activity at least 1¼ hours a week.
    • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
    • Don't smoke. If you need help quitting, ask your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines.
    • Manage other health problems. These include diabetes and high blood pressure. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor.

    Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.