High Cholesterol
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High Cholesterol

(Cholesterol, High; Hypercholesterolemia)

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Animation Movie AvailableUnderstanding Cholesterol Levels


You have this condition if there are high levels of cholesterol in the blood. There are three parts of cholesterol:

  • Low density lipoproteins (LDL)—involved in depositing cholesterol and other fats throughout the body, high levels of LDL put you at risk for hardening of the arteries and heart disease
  • High density lipoproteins (HDL)—involved in eliminating cholesterol and other fats from the body, high levels of HDL are protective against heart disease
  • Triglycerides—a common form of fat in the body


Causes of high cholesterol include:

Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of developing high cholesterol. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:

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


High cholesterol rarely causes symptoms. If not treated, it often leads to hardening of the arteries (called atherosclerosis). This condition ends up blocking blood as it travels through arteries. In severe cases, this may result in:

If you have an inherited form of high cholesterol, cholesterol deposits in the:

  • Tendons
  • Under the eyes
  • Around the cornea



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The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. These tests are used to measure the cholesterol levels in your blood:

  • Total cholesterol
  • HDL cholesterol
  • LDL cholesterol
  • Triglycerides


Treatment may include:

Lifestyle Changes

Cholesterol-Lowering Medication

If diet and exercise don't lower cholesterol, you may need medication. Examples include:

  • Cholestyramine (Questran)
  • Colestipol (Colestid)
  • Niacin (Niacor)
  • Statins
    • Lovastatin (Mevacor)
    • Pravastatin (Pravachol)
    • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
    • Simvastatin (Zocor)
  • Ezetimibe (Zetia)

Statins are often prescribed for high cholesterol. They have been shown to reduce mortality and heart attacks. Ezetimibe has reduced plaque in arteries, but has not been shown to reduce mortality.

If you are at high risk for coronary artery disease, combination therapy may be needed to lower LDL.


To help reduce your chance of getting high cholesterol, follow the lifestyle changes.


American Heart Association

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Canadian Cardiovascular Society

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada


Goroll AH, Mulley AG. Primary Care Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000.

Heart disease and stroke statistics update. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1928. Updated 2008. Accessed July 7, 2008.

How can I lower high cholesterol? American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org. Published October 2007. Accessed July 7, 2008.

Lipid-lowering pharmacotherapy overview. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated September 2008. Accessed September 23, 2008.

Third report of the expert panel on detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood cholesterol in adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). National Cholesterol Education Program website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/cholesterol/index.htm . Accessed December 17, 2007.

What is cholesterol? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Hbc/HBC_WhatIs.html. Updated February 2006. Accessed July 7, 2008.

Last reviewed December 2007 by Jill Landis, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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