What is High Cholesterol and Why Do We Care?

What is Cholesterol and Why do we Care?


Cholesterol is in every cell of the body and has vital functions when levels are normal. When levels exceed normal it becomes the silent killer affecting more Americans than any other disease.


What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is an oil-based, waxy substance. It does not mix with blood (which is water-based) and therefore cannot travel in blood on its own. It travels around the body in lipoproteins (made form the liver) which have two types.

What about Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are different from cholesterol and are a source of energy for the body. Excess calories are converted to triglycerides. Unfortunately, they are stored in your fat cells and they use lipoproteins to travel into the blood stream. These can also lead to heart disease and stroke.

Causes of High Cholesterol

A diet high in fat and calories is a major cause. Also, genetics and other health conditions such as:

What are Normal Cholesterol Levels?

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute classifies cholesterol levels (mg/dL) as follows:


Total cholesterol

HDL cholesterol

LDL cholesterol


lower than 170

higher than 45

lower than 110






200 or higher


higher than 130



lower than 40



This guide, along with your health, lifestyle and family history guides your health care provider on how to manage your cholesterol levels.


High Cholesterol Symptoms


In most cases there are no symptoms to high cholesterol. It is considered a “silent” problem and is often discovered once a complication, such as a heart attack or stroke has occurred. For this reason, routine cholesterol screenings are advised age 20 or above. Sooner depending on your personal and family risk factors.


Risk Factors for High Cholesterol


By reducing risk factors, you lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Main risk factors for high cholesterol include:


Complications of Untreated High Cholesterol


If left untreated, cholesterol causes plaque build-up in the arteries, leading to heart disease. Also known as atherosclerosis. The risk is high after 10 years of high cholesterol according to the National Institute of Health. This limits blood flow in your arteries causing serious and deadly complications including:



Diet Improvements to Lower Cholesterol


Diet change has been shown to lower cholesterol in many and needs to be a lifelong change in order for your risk of heart disease to stay lower. Eating more plant-based and choosing lean proteins helps. Also opting for baked, steamed or grilled vs frying and junk food. Consider looking into the following:



Medications to Treat High Cholesterol


Although diet and lifestyle changes are best to start with, some people require medication to lower their cholesterol. Statins are the most common class of medications used to treat high cholesterol. They help block the liver from producing more cholesterol therefore lowering the circulating amount in your blood stream.


Complications form medication therapy are very low and your health care provider can help you decide which treatment is best for you.


Take Away


Untreated high cholesterol is a “silent” health issue leading to heart disease and other detrimental health issues. Screening early on and keeping you risk factors low are key to preventing atherosclerosis and reducing your risk of health complications and premature death. Getting annual physical exams are a great way to know where you’re at with your health and develop a health plan for just for you.



National Institute of Health, Medical News Today, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Healthline.

Peggy Demetriou, FNP, APRN-BC Founder and CEO of Qvita Health and Wellness.

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