High cholesterol

High cholesterol occurs when the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood is too high, leading to a buildup of plaque in the arteries.

What causes high cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance your body naturally produces to make hormones, vitamins and substances that help with digestion. Your body produces all the cholesterol it needs, but it also gets it from food.

Cholesterol moves through the bloodstream in packages made of fat surrounded by proteins. Two kinds of packages move cholesterol throughout the body: low-density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL or “good” cholesterol).

HDL cholesterol moves cholesterol to the liver to be removed from the body, while LDL can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries.

Cholesterol is one of the substances found in plaque, which can harden and narrow your arteries. The higher your levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol in the blood, the higher your risk of building up plaque in the coronary arteries. The higher your levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol, the lower your risk of plaque buildup.

Symptoms of high cholesterol

High cholesterol usually causes no symptoms. Many people don’t know that their cholesterol levels are too high. Regular screenings can help catch high cholesterol and give you a chance to manage it.

How is high cholesterol diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose high cholesterol using the results of a simple blood test called a lipid panel, lipid profile or lipoprotein panel.

How is high cholesterol treated?

Lifestyle changes and medication can help you manage high cholesterol. Your doctor may recommend the following to manage your cholesterol levels:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Managing your weight
  • Increasing your physical activity

Your doctor may also prescribe medication to help lower your LDL cholesterol level, including:

  • Statins
  • Bile acid sequestrates
  • Nicotinic acid
  • Fibrates
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors (ezetimibe)
  • Combination cholesterol absorption inhibitor and statin (ezetimibe-simvastatin)
  • Injectable medications. A new class of drugs can help the liver absorb more LDL cholesterol which lowers the amount of cholesterol circulating in your blood. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved alirocumab (Praluent) and evolocumab ( Repatha)