Cholesterol is a substance that is found in the blood. Everyone has some. It is needed for good health. The problem is, people sometimes have too much cholesterol. Compared with people with normal cholesterol, people with high cholesterol have a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other health problems. The higher your cholesterol, the higher your risk of these problems.
Yes, there are a few different types. If you get a cholesterol test, you might hear your doctor or nurse talk about:
Ask your doctor or nurse what your numbers should be. Different people need different goals. (If you live outside the United States, see the table (table 1)). In general, people who do not already have heart disease should aim for:
Keep in mind, though, that many people who cannot meet these goals still have a low risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Ask your doctor what your overall risk of heart attacks and strokes is. High cholesterol, by itself, is not always a reason to worry. Having high cholesterol is just one of many things that can increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Other factors that increase your risk include:
If you are at high risk of heart attacks and strokes, having high cholesterol is a problem. On the other hand, if you are at low risk, having high cholesterol might not lead to treatment.
Not everyone who has high cholesterol needs medicines. Your doctor or nurse will decide if you need them based on your age, family history, and other health concerns.
You should probably take a cholesterol-lowering medicine called a statin if you:
Yes, you can lower your cholesterol some by:
Even if these steps do little to change your cholesterol, they can improve your health in many ways.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
Table 1: Cholesterol and triglyceride measurements in the United States and elsewhere
|Measurement used within the United States Milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL)||Measurement used most places outside the United States Millimoles/liter (mmol/Liter)|
|Level to aim for||Level to aim for|
|Total cholesterol||Below 200||Below 5.17|
|LDL cholesterol||Below 130 – or much lower if at risk of heart attack and stroke||Below 3.36 – or much lower if at risk of heart attack and stroke|
|HDL cholesterol||Above 60||Above 1.55|
|Triglycerides||Below 150||Below 1.7|
Cholesterol is measured differently in the United States than it is in most other countries. This table shows values used within and outside the United States. It includes the cholesterol and triglyceride levels that most people who do not have heart disease should aim for.
This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or life-style choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.
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