Cholesterol is a fatty substance in your blood which helps to build and maintain healthy cells. It combines with proteins to form lipoproteins which carry the cholesterol around your body in your blood. There are two main types of lipoproteins:
As cholesterol levels increase, fatty LDL cholesterol builds up in your arteries, increasing your risk of serious heart or circulation problems.
Men are more likely to have high cholesterol, although going through the menopause early increases the risk for women.
High cholesterol is usually symptomless but can be diagnosed with a cholesterol test, which is a blood test. Once spotted, high cholesterol levels can be lowered by making simple lifestyle changes and/or medication.
If you have a condition which is affected by or raises cholesterol levels, your GP will regularly test your cholesterol.
If you’re over the age of 40 or concerned about your cholesterol levels, ask your GP about cholesterol testing.
Your GP will discuss your lifestyle, family history and general health, including any heart or circulatory problems. If needed, your GP will arrange for you to have a cholesterol test to check cholesterol levels.
This test involves taking a small sample of your blood, either using a needle or by pricking your finger. To provide an accurate result, you can’t eat for up to 12 hours before your cholesterol test.
There are many different reasons for high cholesterol levels.
Your lifestyle plays a major part in your cholesterol levels being too high. Factors include:
Other risk factors include:
There are also several conditions which can raise your cholesterol levels, including:
High cholesterol can be successfully treated. Your GP will tell you how to lower your cholesterol by changing your lifestyle, including following a healthy, balanced, low cholesterol diet. A low cholesterol diet features:
Other lifestyle changes which can help lower high cholesterol levels include:
If lifestyle changes fail to lower your cholesterol levels, your GP may prescribe cholesterol lowering medication called statins. Alternatively, your GP may recommend aspirin or medication to prevent cholesterol being absorbed or building up in your arteries. If you need to lose a lot of weight, your GP may consider whether obesity surgery, such as a gastric bypass, might help.