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Cholesterol: A Quick Overview

A Quick Overview of High Cholesterol

  • What it is. When you have high cholesterol, it means you have excess cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream. This isn't a disease in itself, but it may lead to serious health problems, including peripheral vascular disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
  • How it's diagnosed. The only way to know whether you have high cholesterol is to have a simple blood test. Experts recommend that healthy adults have the test at least every five years. You may need to be tested more often, depending on your age and other factors.
  • How it's treated. Making changes to your lifestyle, such as eating less fat and cholesterol, getting more exercise, losing weight if you are overweight, and quitting smoking, can help control your cholesterol levels. If these measures don't lower your cholesterol, or if your levels are very high, your doctor may prescribe medicine.

You've probably heard media reports linking high cholesterol with heart disease. Perhaps your doctor has brought up the subject of cholesterol testing with you. Maybe you're worried that you or someone you love is at risk. You should be concerned.

Heart and blood vessel disease is the number one killer throughout the world, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States alone, it takes the lives of nearly 1 million people every year, and high cholesterol is an important part of the equation.

Doctors call high blood cholesterol hypercholesterolemia. Having high levels of cholesterol in your blood increases your risk for hardening of the arteries, heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, and stroke. You may have high cholesterol for many years before you develop symptoms of any of these conditions.

To lower your cholesterol and reduce the risks to your health, you need to understand what high cholesterol is, how doctors diagnose and treat it, and what steps you can take to help control it. You've come to the right place.