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Cholesterol is the fatty and waxy substance that is carried into your blood via proteins. The combination of cholesterol and proteins is called lipoproteins. There are two major types of lipoproteins available in the body.
1. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – these are commonly called good cholesterol as they absorb cholesterol in the blood and carry to the liver. The liver’s function would be to break them down or pass them out of the body as waste. This is the reason why higher levels of HDL cholesterol are preferred as they help excrete the bad cholesterol.
2. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – this is unhealthy or bad cholesterol. LDL carries cholesterol to the cells that need them. Too much LDL in the body can create a build-up in the artery walls leading to a disease in the arteries.
These levels of cholesterol are measured in the blood with the help of a blood test called the lipid profile. The recommended and average level of cholesterol differs in people. For people who are at a higher risk for the development of arterial disease and heart issues, the level is much stricter.
Cholesterol is important for the body as it is vital for its normal functioning. It helps create cell membranes, hormones, and vitamin D. However, too much cholesterol, especially, LDL, can be an issue. The primary cholesterol problem is created due to higher levels of this type of cholesterol in the body.
Table of Contents
What is high cholesterol?
There are two main sources of cholesterol:
- It is produced by the liver
- It is found in the food that you consume.
Having higher levels of lipid (cholesterol) in the blood is a condition called hyperlipidemia. Higher cholesterol levels may not have any outright symptoms but they can increase the risk of serious infections in the body. The body needs the right and exact amount of lipids to be able to function well. However, when there are too many lipids, the body will be unable to use them all. In this case, the extra lipids begin to build up in the arteries. Once they combine with the other substances in the body, there is a plaque deposit which is a fatty deposit. One may not notice the symptoms of the effects of plaque in the initial stages. Over time, the plaque deposit grows within the interiors of the arterial walls. This is the effect of high cholesterol within the body. The extra lipids in the body can create silent effects and the only way to be ahead of them would be with the help of regular blood tests.
The risk of high cholesterol is diagnosed with the help of a blood test called the lipid profile. This test can tell you the number of lipids present and circulate in the blood. Cholesterol numbers can be different for different people, this can depend on your age, sex, medical conditions, and history of heart disease.
High cholesterol problems
One of the biggest cholesterol problems is atherosclerosis (plaque build-up). People who develop this situation face a much bigger risk of many other medical conditions. Since the blood vessels are responsible for all the work done throughout the body, problems, and blockages in the vessels can cause a ripple effect of issues. Even though the narrowing of blood vessels may not cause immediate problems as they will be able to function partially, it may result in problems in the long term.
Here are some of the major issues that higher levels of cholesterol can create:
1. Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
CAD or coronary heart disease is most referred to as heart disease. It is one of the leading causes of death in the US. CAD is the result of atherosclerosis affecting the coronary arteries. These arteries are responsible for carrying blood to the heart. When your heart is unable to get enough blood, it gets weaker and may not work at its optimal level. CAD, therefore, can lead to a heart attack or heart failure. CAD can also affect younger people.
2. Carotid Artery Disease
Atherosclerosis affecting the carotid artery is called carotid artery disease. These arteries carry blood to the bigger, frontal part of the brain. Due to the blocking of these arteries, your brain may not be able to receive fresh and oxygenated blood. This disease can cause a stroke
3. Peripheral Artery Disease
Atherosclerosis can also create an impact on the legs and arms. When arteries to the peripheral regions of the body are blocked, it can cause issues in their functioning. This is more common in the legs, but can also occur in the arms. It is not preceded by any symptoms, and therefore, is dangerous. The initial problems may appear when the peripheral arteries are at least 60% blocked. If you notice problems (leg cramps) when you are moving around but relief in the pain when you are stationary, it can be a key symptom of plaque in the arteries. PAD and CAD have the same risk factors
4. High blood pressure
Hypertension is greatly linked to higher levels of cholesterol. The plaque from cholesterol and calcium can cause arteries to harden and become narrow. This can lead to much greater stress on the heart to pump blood – resulting in high blood pressure. High BP and cholesterol are the leading causes of heart disease.
Symptoms of cholesterol problems
Unfortunately, the dangers of high cholesterol are not noticed until they cause a bigger, greater impact. One can go as far as to say that they could be a runner and regularly participate in marathons but still not notice that they may have higher levels of cholesterol in their bodies. High cholesterol can increase problems like peripheral artery disease, stroke, high blood pressure, etc. An elevated cholesterol report is also more common in people living with diabetes.
What are the risk factors of high cholesterol?
Several medical and environmental problems can increase the risks of high cholesterol in the body. Medical problems and cholesterol often have a two-way relationship. High cholesterol levels are known to cause medical problems like atherosclerosis and some medical conditions also leave you more susceptible to higher levels of cholesterol in the body.
Here are some of the common medical conditions that can be risk factors for elevation in cholesterol:
1. Chronic Kidney Disease
CKD can cause plaque to build up more quickly in the arteries. People with kidney diseases in the early stages are also more likely to face fatal consequences like heart issues from kidney disease. The physiology behind this is the higher levels of triglycerides in the body that can increase the VLDL particles in the blood. CKD also lowers good cholesterol levels and changes the structure of bad cholesterol making them more harmful.
People with HIV are two times more likely than people without HIV to have a heart attack or stroke. Studies have linked this problem to HIV medications, these medications are associated with an increase in cholesterol levels in the body. However, the immune system can also play a role in this. Poorer immunity can lead to inflammation that triggers plaque build-up and atherosclerosis.
The presence of thyroid disease can affect cholesterol levels in the blood. The thyroid hormone influences the processing of lipids (body fats). The results also differ based on the type of thyroid condition present in the body:
- Hyperthyroidism – Too much thyroid hormone in the body will require medications. These meds can raise cholesterol levels (both HDL and LDL).
- Hypothyroidism – A small amount of thyroid hormone in the body can also lead to higher levels of cholesterol. However, treatment may lower them. You may require statins for your cholesterol levels to return to normal.
Both types of thyroid conditions are known to increase a person’s risk for heart failure.
- Lupus – People living with lupus usually have higher levels of LDL cholesterol in their blood along with less HDL cholesterol. Research has seen that people with active symptoms of lupus are at a much bigger risk of high cholesterol problems as compared to those with quiet or well-managed lupus. This disease raises a person’s susceptibility to develop coronary artery disease due to the constant state of chronic inflammation that your body is in. This inflammation can create faster plaque build-up
- PCOS – Polycystic ovary syndrome is another medical risk factor for high cholesterol levels and heart disease. This problem only seems to increase as a person ages. PCOS can also increase the risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure. High LDL levels and low HDL levels are common in women with PCOS.
- Diabetes mellitus – Type 1 and type 2 diabetes can double the risk of coronary artery disease and peripheral artery disease. Since diabetes is associated with lower levels of HDL and higher levels of triglycerides and LDLs in the body, the statistics are alarming. 7 out of 10 people with type 2 diabetes are also diagnosed with dyslipidemia (higher triglyceride levels, higher LDL levels, and low HDL levels)
Other risk factors for high cholesterol levels are related to lifestyle factors and genetics:
- Smoking and tobacco – This can reduce HDL and raise LDL.
- Stress – higher levels of stress can trigger hormonal changes in the body that can trigger an increase in the production of cholesterol.
- Alcohol – Too much alcohol in the body can increase cholesterol.
- Sedentary lifestyle – Physical activity is known to reduce cholesterol numbers in the body.
- Unhealthy diet – Junk food, processed food, fatty food, etc can add to the risk of development of high cholesterol.
- Genetics – Genetics and family history are also one of the biggest risk factors that can contribute to the development of high cholesterol.
Is high cholesterol dangerous?
Yes, high cholesterol is highly detrimental to health and it can cause a vast multitude of complications that can lead to long-term issues. The biggest cholesterol problem is that it can cause a dangerous accumulation of cholesterol and other deposits on the arterial walls. This is called plaque. Plaque can reduce and restrict the blood flow through the arteries causing complications like heart attack, chest pain, angina, etc. Since high cholesterol has no symptoms, it becomes even more dangerous as it can directly be caught when the person has reached an advanced stage of the problem.
The symptoms of cholesterol problems may not be apparent and highly visible. High cholesterol, however, can lead to many fatal consequences if not diagnosed and treated on time. Therefore, visiting your doctors regularly and getting tests done at the right frequency and intervals would be vital in staying ahead of any potential problems that may come your way. High cholesterol can be highly dangerous and is known as a silent killer. Having proper knowledge about the problem can make you equipped to deal with it.
1. What happens when cholesterol is high?
Is high cholesterol dangerous? Yes! When your LDL levels are higher than they should be, the body sees a deposit on the arterial walls called plaque. This plaque can block the passage of the arteries restricting the flow of oxygenated blood to the organs. Carotid artery disease, coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, etc are just a few of the complications that may occur due to high cholesterol.
2. What are the 5 signs of high cholesterol?
There are no visible symptoms that may reveal that your body may have higher levels of cholesterol. Unfortunately, you may come to know when you see certain signs like – high blood pressure, chest pain, pain while walking, yellowish skin around the eyes, and heart attack.
3. What are the 3 causes of high cholesterol?
High cholesterol can be caused by and aggravated due to many different reasons – however, a few factors play a major role in the same – genetics, lifestyle, and history of medical conditions.
4. What is normal cholesterol?
A total cholesterol level of less than 200mg/dl is considered normal. This value may be slightly different according to the age and sex assigned at birth. Medical conditions and history may also play a role in deciding what is normal for a person in terms of cholesterol values.
This website's content is provided only for educational reasons and is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical advice. Due to individual differences, the reader should contact their physician to decide whether the material is applicable to their case.