What Is High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is derived from your body and the foods you eat. Much of your body’s cholesterol supply comes from your liver. Cholesterol is also found in foods derived from animal sources, such as meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products.

Diets high in saturated and trans fat cause your liver to produce more cholesterol. Too much cholesterol in your bloodstream causes the excess cholesterol to form a substance called plaque. This substance builds up in the layers of your arterial walls, making it difficult for the heart to circulate your blood.

If the plaque bursts open in the bloodstream, it can result in blood clots. This can interrupt the flow of blood to your brain, which can cause a stroke. Problems with blood flow can also prevent the heart from getting enough oxygen-rich blood. This can increase your risk of having a heart attack.

Good vs. Bad Cholesterol

Cholesterol falls into two different categories, good and bad. Lipoproteins called LDL and HDL handle transporting cholesterol through the bloodstream. LDL cholesterol is referred to as “bad cholesterol” because it can contribute to the development of plaque. HDL or “good cholesterol” removes LDL cholesterol from the arteries and takes it back to the liver.

Total cholesterol refers to the total amount of cholesterol present in your blood. HDL, LDL, and triglyceride numbers are used to measure the total cholesterol. Triglycerides are fats found in your blood that store excess energy taken from the food you consume.

HDL cholesterol helps to protect you against heart disease. In general, higher HDL numbers are better. Levels less than 40 mg/dL may put you at a higher risk for heart disease. The higher the LDL level, the greater your chance of developing heart disease or even having a heart attack.