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A cardiologist holds a stethoscope to check her patient's heart rate and rhythm.

High cholesterol

High cholesterol, also known as hypercholesterolemia, means there is an excess of lipids or fats in the blood. Your liver makes cholesterol to help digest foods and make hormones. You also consume cholesterol in certain foods, but your liver makes all that your body needs to function properly, making the cholesterol you eat excess. 

Too much cholesterol can create blockages in the arteries. When it is more difficult for blood to flow through the body, the risk of stroke or heart attack increases. The plaque buildup itself can also be irritated, which will cause a clot to form around it.

What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?

High cholesterol does not normally show symptoms until emergency complications have presented themselves. A blood test will let you and your physician know what your cholesterol levels are. It is recommended you begin cholesterol testing at age 20 and continue every five years or more frequently if your risk of heart disease is higher.

Signs of high cholesterol include:

What are the causes of high cholesterol?

Are there different types of hypercholesterolemia?

There are two classifications of high cholesterol: 

  • Familial: A type that you can inherit from your parents or grandparents, increasing chances of early coronary artery disease and heart attack. 
  • Acquired: This type is most often caused by certain lifestyle factors and is sometimes caused by underlying health conditions and certain medications.

What are the risk factors for hypercholesterolemia?

  • Being overweight
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol

How do I prevent high cholesterol?

  • Exercise multiple days a week
  • Avoid saturated and trans fats
  • Incorporate lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and whole grains into your diet
  • Limit red meats and processed foods

How do you treat high cholesterol?

If making lifestyle changes isn’t effective in lowering your cholesterol levels, your physician will recommend different types of medication to help with treatment. The choice of medication or combination of medications depends on various factors, including your personal risk factors, your age, your health, and possible drug side effects.

If you are having a heart attack, which happens when parts of the heart do not receive enough blood flow, you may notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain. Pain in the center or left side of the chest is one of the most common signs of a heart attack. You may feel a tightness, fullness, or squeezing sensation that can last for several minutes.
  • Discomfort in the upper body. This can include pain in the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, back, and stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. While this symptom usually accompanies chest pain, it can occur before the discomfort starts.
  • Lightheadedness. In combination with other symptoms, feeling as though you are about to pass out is a common indicator of a heart attack.
  • Heart palpitations. You may begin to feel irregular or skipping heartbeats.

Heart attack symptoms can happen on and off or continuously over the course of a few minutes or a few hours. Chances are, if you have been experiencing chest pain for several days or weeks, it is not related to a heart attack.

If you see somebody having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. If they are conscious, have them chew and swallow an aspirin, which helps prevent blood clots. If they lose consciousness, administer CPR or follow the instructions on an automated external defibrillator (AED) if one is immediately available.

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