Having high cholesterol can lead to serious health complications, including heart attack and stroke. Although genetics control part of your cholesterol, there are also lifestyle changes you can make to keep your cholesterol at a healthy level. Staying active and maintaining a healthy weight are two great ways to avoid high cholesterol. Read below to learn what cholesterol is, its causes, risk factors, symptoms and treatments.

Cholesterol is a type of lipid in the blood. High cholesterol means there is an abnormally high level of cholesterol in the blood. There are different types of cholesterol in your blood including:

  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL): causes buildup of cholesterol and other fats in the blood vessels. Known as bad cholesterol because high levels can cause disease in the arteries and heart disease.
  • High density lipoproteins (HDL): can remove cholesterol and other fats from the blood. Known as good cholesterol because it may protect against heart disease.

Causes of high cholesterol include:

  • Genetics
  • High-fat diet
  • Overweight
  • Sedentary lifestyle

These risk factors may increase your chance of high cholesterol:

  • Age: cholesterol levels tend to rise with age
  • Sex: Males, Females after menopause
  • Family members with high cholesterol
  • High-fat diet
  • Obesity, overweight
  • Sedentary lifestyle

It is rare for high cholesterol to cause symptoms. But high cholesterol can increase your risk of atherosclerosis. This is a dangerous hardening of the arteries. It can block the flow of blood, and in some cases, a blocked or slowed blood flow may cause:

  • Angina
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Other serious complications

Your doctor will ask about factors that may increase your risk of heart disease or stroke. A physical exam will be done. A blood test will also be done. Blood will be sent to a lab to measure lipid levels in your blood including:

  • Total cholesterol
  • HDL cholesterol
  • LDL cholesterol
  • Triglycerides

Your doctor may do other tests to look for other conditions that can be associated with high cholesterol levels.

Treatment is aimed at decreasing your cholesterol levels. Your doctor will also make recommendations to help you manage other risk factors for heart disease and stroke. This would include nutritional and lifestyle changes and possibly cholesterol-lowering medication.

Talk to your doctor to learn more about cholesterol and what you can do to control your own cholesterol levels.