What Is High Blood Cholesterol?

High blood cholesterol is a condition in which we have too much cholesterol in our blood. By itself, the condition usually has no signs or symptoms. Thus, many people don’t know that their cholesterol levels are too high.

When you have high cholesterol, you may develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits can build up to significantly reduce or block blood flow, causing a heart attack (not enough blood to flow through your arteries) or stroke (not enough blood flow to the brain).

What Causes High Blood Cholesterol?

Many factors can contribute to high blood cholesterol levels or cholesterol levels that are out of balance. Some of these factors are within your control, and some are not. To some extent, your genetic make-up determines your cholesterol level.

  • Some people inherit a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, which means that very high cholesterol levels run in the family.
  • Some people may simply be more likely than others to react to lifestyle factors (such as lack of exercise or a high-fat diet) that push up cholesterol levels.
  • Other people, especially people for whom diabetes runs in the family, inherit high triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are another type of blood fat that can also push up cholesterol levels.

Besides your genetic make-up, many lifestyle factors affect cholesterol levels and cholesterol balance:

  • What you eat.  Saturated fat raises your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level more than anything else in your diet. Trans fatty acids (trans fats) raise your Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and lower your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Trans fats are made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to harden it. Trans fats are found in some fried and processed foods. Limiting foods with cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fats, and eat whol foods that are rich in fiber, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help you control your cholesterol levels.
  • How active you are. Regular exercise not only reduces total blood  cholesterol, but it lowers the bad kind of cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) while raising the good kind of cholesterol (HDL cholesterol).
  • What you weigh.  Being overweight tends to raise your LDL level, lower your HDL level, and increase your total cholesterol level. 
  • Age and Sex. Starting at puberty, men often have lower levels of HDL cholesterol than women. As women and men age, their LDL cholesterol levels often rise. Before age 55, women usually have lower LDL cholesterol levels than men. However, after menopause (approximately at age 55), women can have higher LDL levels than men.


Sacks FM, Katan M (December 2002). "Randomized clinical trials on the effects of dietary fat and carbohydrate on plasma lipoproteins and cardiovascular disease". Am. J. Med. 113

(n.d). Citing Websites. High Cholesterol. In Mayo Clinic. Retrieved April 14, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-cholesterol/DS00178

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