Living with Hypercholesterolemia

A high cholesterol level in the blood (hypercholesterolemia) usually has no signs or symptoms. The only way to know whether or not you have high cholesterol is to have a healthcare professional conduct a blood test to check your cholesterol level.
 
Desirable Cholesterol Levels1–3

Total cholesterol

Less than 200 mg/dL

Low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C, or “bad” cholesterol)

Less than 100 mg/dL

High-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL, or “good” cholesterol)

Equal to or greater than 60 mg/dL

Triglycerides

Less than 150 mg/dL

Although cholesterol numbers are important, they are just one part of the overall health picture. It is important to consider family history, age, gender, and other lifestyle or health factors, such as smoking, that could increase your risk for high cholesterol.

  • Most healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years.1
  • Some people, such as those who have heart disease, diabetes, or a family history of high cholesterol, need to get their cholesterol checked more often.4
  • Children and adolescents should have their cholesterol checked at least once between the ages 9 and 11 and again between the ages 17 and 21.2

The following common conditions, comorbidities, and behaviors are associated with hypercholesterolemia.5

  • Type 2 diabetes lowers high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C, or “good” cholesterol) levels and raises low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C, or “bad” cholesterol) levels; this combination raises the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Obesity, which is linked to higher triglyceride levels, higher LDL-C levels, and lower HDL-C levels, can also lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
  • Other conditions such as familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) can cause very high LDL-C levels.
  • Eating a diet high in saturated fat and trans fat may contribute to high cholesterol and related conditions, such as heart disease.
  • Not getting enough physical activity can cause weight gain and can lead to high cholesterol.
  • Smoking damages blood vessels, making them more likely to collect fatty deposits, and may also lower HDL-C levels.

If you have high cholesterol, you are not alone. However, high cholesterol is often preventable and treatable. Adopting a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and, in some cases, taking medications—statins, ezetimibe, and/or PCSK9 inhibitors—can go a long way to help lower your cholesterol and protect your heart.6

New treatment options and scientific advances are helping patients with hypercholesterolemia have better health outcomes. However, the journey from diagnosis to treatment and beyond is difficult, and navigating the large amount of information available is a daunting task for anyone. Learning about what to expect from your diagnosis and treatment may ease your anxiety and help you feel comfortable with having an open dialogue with your clinician.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Getting your cholesterol checked. www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/cholesterol_screening.htm. Accessed November 20, 2019.
  2. Grundy SM, Stone NJ, Bailey AL, et al. 2018 AHA/ACC/AACVPR/AAPA/ ABC/ACPM/ADA/ AGS/APhA/ASPC/NLA/PCNA guideline on the management of blood cholesterol: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2019;73:e285-e350.
  3. National Cholesterol Education Program. Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) final report. Circulation. 2002;106:3143-3421.
  4. HealthFinder.gov. Get your cholesterol checked. https://healthfinder.gov/healthtopics/category/doctor-visits/screening-tests/get-your-cholesterol-checked. Accessed November 20, 2019.
  5. CDC. Knowing your risk for high cholesterol. www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/risk_factors.htm. Accessed November 20, 2019.
  6. American College of Cardiology (ACC) CardioSmart. High cholesterol. www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Conditions/High-Cholesterol. Accessed November 20, 2019.
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