HIGHLIGHTS

Open
Grocery Coupons

Grocery Coupons

Members can print free savings coupons

Brain Health Center

Brain Health Center

Learn how to live smart and stay sharp

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle

Members save on e-
readers and tablets

Caring for loved ones?

Caring for loved ones?

Find the resources you need

High Cholesterol Learning Center

  • Enlarge
  • Print
  • Recommend

High Cholesterol

What Is High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that occurs naturally in the body. It is important in the manufacture of hormones and vitamin D. But too much cholesterol, especially when it comes from poor food choices, can clog blood vessels and lead to heart attack or stroke.

Types of High Cholesterol

There are two types of cholesterol. Low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, are known as “bad” cholesterol. This is the type that builds up in arteries and can cause a heart attack or stroke.

High-density lipoproteins, or HDL, are known as “good” cholesterol. This substance helps return bad cholesterol to the liver for elimination.

What Causes High Cholesterol?

Your liver produces cholesterol naturally. But unhealthy foods, such as fried food or foods that contain excessive amounts of animal fat, increase cholesterol levels. Sometimes, excessive carbohydrates become fat (triglycerides) in the blood, partnering with LDL to further clog arteries.

In addition to a poor diet, genetics and obesity also play major roles in a person's inability to eliminate cholesterol from the blood.

Who Is at Risk for High Cholesterol?

Anyone whose diet contains an excessive amount of saturated fat is at risk of high cholesterol. Saturated fat comes from red meat and dairy products. Nuts and some plant-derived oils also are high in saturated fat.

Obese people and people with a genetic susceptibility to high cholesterol are also at risk.

What Are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?

High cholesterol doesn't show any symptoms until a catastrophic event such as a stroke or heart attack occurs. In rare cases, it may show up as yellow deposits in the eyes or in tendons.

How Is High Cholesterol Diagnosed?

High cholesterol can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. When cholesterol levels are taken after a 12-hour fast, total cholesterol should not exceed 200 milligrams per deciliter. A level above 240 is considered high. If a reading falls between normal level and high level, it is considered borderline high.

How Is High Cholesterol Treated?

For most people with high cholesterol, exercise and a healthy diet can decrease levels to normal—discuss all dietary changes and exercise regimens with your doctor or healthcare provider. Sometimes medication is needed, especially with high levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol.

Medications

Many different medications can treat high cholesterol. They include:

  • Statins are drugs that help your body lower cholesterol levels and even remove cholesterol from clogged arteries.
  • Niacin can help lower LDL, or bad cholesterol, and raise HDL, or good cholesterol.
  • Resins absorb bile that contains cholesterol and prevent its re-absorption in the large intestine. They also cause the liver to increase bile production, using up more cholesterol.

Other cholesterol-lowering drugs work to lower the intestine's ability to absorb cholesterol.

Home Care

Lifestyle changes are the first line of defense in treating high cholesterol. Take these steps:

  • Eat better. Start preparing meals with your high cholesterol in mind. Try lean meats, such as chicken and fish. Avoid fried or fatty foods. Eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Too many carbohydrates, which can come from alcohol or sugary foods, can raise triglycerides, which also can lead to high cholesterol.
  • Exercise. Participate in moderate aerobic activity at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Research shows this regimen can significantly lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Always discuss new exercise regimens with your doctor or healthcare provider.
  • Quit smoking. This can lower your levels of HDL, or bad cholesterol.

Alternative Therapies

Nutritional supplements such as fiber, soy, and fish oil may all help lower cholesterol. Herbs including hawthorn, garlic, and olive seed extract may also have benefits. Talk to your doctor before beginning an herbal regimen.

What Is the Outlook for High Cholesterol?

Left untreated, high cholesterol can lead to stroke, heart disease, and even diabetes.

Preventing High Cholesterol

High cholesterol can often be prevented by exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet low in animal fats, and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption.

Content licensed from:

Written by: David Heitz
Published on Nov 14, 2013
Medically reviewed on Nov 14, 2013 by George Krucik, MD, MBA

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
health
TOOLS
Condition & Treatment Search
Symptom Search
Drug Search

 

 

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Denny's Ranchero Tilapia

Members save 15% every day when dining at participating Denny's restaurants.

Regal Cinemas movie theater

Members can save $3 on soda + popcorn combos at Regal Cinemas. Restrictions apply.

Woman holding smartphone in city, Google map tool

Members can locate discounts via the AARP® Member Advantages Offer Finder mobile app.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

AARP FIGHTS FOR YOU
ADVOCACY & PROGRAMS

African American, Asian Community Page

AARP In Your Corner

Visit Black Community, Español  and Asian Community pages.

AARP Drivers Safety logo

Driver Safety Program

Register at a location near you to keep your driving skills sharp. 

CTG_blingGood_choices

Create The Good 

Find opportunities to volunteer in your neighborhood. 

AARP Drive to End Hunger Logo

Drive to End Hunger

NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon teams up with AARP Foundation. 

 

Green Dot Prepaid Card

Prepaid MasterCard

AARP Foundation Prepaid MasterCard brought to you by Green Dot.

Most Popular

Viewed

Nothing has been viewed