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High Cholesterol Risk Factors

Many factors can increase your risk of developing high cholesterol. The good news is that most of them are things you can control. There are only a few risk factors for high cholesterol that are out of your hands.

Gender and Age

Being a man or a post-menopausal woman increases your risk of high cholesterol. The female hormone estrogen appears to offer a protective effect on cholesterol. For that reason, from puberty to menopause, women generally have higher levels of "good" HDL cholesterol and lower levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol than men. After menopause, however, women tend to have higher levels of LDL than men.

Family History

Having a family history of high cholesterol can put you at risk as well. Most of the time, this is due to shared eating habits and lack of exercise. You can reverse your risk by leading a heart-healthy lifestyle. However, if high cholesterol is due to inherited genes, a person could be born with high levels of LDL cholesterol and must work with their doctor to control it.


A diet high in calories from saturated fat, trans fat, and sugar can elevate your "bad" LDL and triglyceride levels and raise your overall risk of high cholesterol.


A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more puts you at greater risk of high cholesterol. Losing weight, ideally through a healthy diet and exercise, can lower it.

Physical Inactivity

Regular exercise can help lower your LDL cholesterol. Not getting enough exercise, on the other hand, increases your risk of high cholesterol.


Cigarette smoking damages your arterial walls, making them more susceptible to plaque buildup. It may also lower your "good" HDL cholesterol.


People with diabetes are more likely to have low levels of "good" HDL cholesterol and high levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol. Like smoking, high blood sugar can damage the lining of the arteries and, when coupled with high cholesterol, increase the risk of plaque buildup. High cholesterol due to diabetes is called diabetic dyslipidemia.

Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed : Stephanie Burkhead, MPH

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.
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