High cholesterol is increasingly common with age and can lead to strokes, heart attacks, and other health problems.
High cholesterol is a condition that occurs when levels of cholesterol in your blood are elevated enough to cause health problems such as heart disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
High cholesterol — sometimes known as hypercholesterolemia — is painless and doesn't cause any symptoms.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a dense, fatty substance found in every cell of your body.
Produced by your liver, cholesterol is essential to many life-sustaining functions. It?helps your body make?hormones?and?vitamin D, and it's also found in compounds — such as bile — that your body creates to help you digest food.
Cholesterol circulates throughout your bloodstream in small bundles called lipoproteins. The interior of these bundles is composed of fat, while proteins form the exterior wall.
What Are the Different Types of Cholesterol?
There are two main categories of cholesterol in the blood:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL):?Considered cholesterol's "bad" form, LDL enables cholesterol to create deposits (plaque) that build up and harden on the walls of blood vessels — a condition called atherosclerosis (commonly known as "hardening of the arteries").
When this happens in the coronary arteries (the arteries that serve your heart), it reduces your heart's supply of oxygen-rich blood. This serious condition, called coronary artery disease, can cause heart attacks and even death.
Plaques can also form on the arteries that supply blood to your brain, abdomen, arms, and legs, leading to a higher risk of?stroke, intestinal damage, and peripheral arterial disease.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL):?HDL is the "good" kind of cholesterol, because it helps reduce LDL levels.
The role of HDL is to transport?LDL cholesterol to your liver, which removes it from your blood.
What Are Triglycerides and Why Do They Matter?
Triglycerides are another form of blood fat similar to cholesterol.
Making healthy lifestyle choices can go a long way toward controlling your triglyceride levels.
Some people, though, have an inherited genetic condition called hypertriglyceridemia, which causes high triglyceride levels.
Facts and Statistics About Cholesterol
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 73.5 million adults in the United States — 31.7 percent of the population — have high levels of LDL cholesterol.
Fewer than one in three adults (29.5 percent) with high LDL cholesterol have the condition under control.
Less than half (48.1 percent) of adults with high LDL cholesterol are getting treatment to lower it, the CDC notes.
High cholesterol becomes more common as people age. Decade by decade, your cholesterol can edge upward:
- In their twenties, 22 percent of people have high cholesterol.
- In their thirties, 38 percent of people have high cholesterol.
- In their forties, 50 percent of people have high cholesterol.
- In their fifties, 62 percent of people have high cholesterol.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- What Is Cholesterol? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
- High cholesterol;?Mayo Clinic.
- High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need to Know;?National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
- HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides;?American Heart Association.
- Triglycerides: Why do they matter??Mayo Clinic.
- High Cholesterol Facts; CDC.