Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that comes from your food and body.

There are no warning signs of high cholesterol. To find out your levels, you must be tested regularly.

Excess cholesterol can form plaque between layers of artery walls, making it harder for your heart to circulate blood. Plaque can break open and cause blood clots. If a clot blocks an artery that feeds the brain, it causes a stroke. If it blocks an artery that feeds the heart, it causes a heart attack.

There are two types of cholesterol: “good” and “bad.” Too much of one type, or not enough of the other, can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. It’s important to know the levels of your cholesterol in your blood so that you and your doctor can determine the best strategy to lower your risk.

Normal cholesterol levels are important for a healthy body, which naturally produces cholesterol to preform important cell functions.

Making healthy eating choices and increasing exercise are important first steps in improving your cholesterol. For some people, cholesterol-lowering medications may also be needed.

What Can Cholesterol Do?
High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

As your blood cholesterol rises, so does your risk of coronary heart disease. If you have other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes, this risk increases even further. The greater the level of each risk factor, the more that factor affects your overall risk. Your cholesterol level can be affected by your age, gender, family health history and diet.

When too much LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, cholesterol can form a thick, hard deposit called plaque that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrow artery, a heart attack or stroke can result.

Atherosclerosis:
Or the hardening of the arteries, is a condition in which plaque builds up inside the arteries. Plaque is made of cholesterol, fatty substances cellular waste products, calcium and fibrin (a clotting material in the blood).

Plaque may partially or totally block the blood’s flow through the artery in the heart, brain, pelvis, legs, arms or kidneys. Some of the diseases that my develop as a result of atherosclerosis include coronary heart disease, angina (chest pain), carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease (PAD) and chronic kidney disease.

Prevention and Treatment
Working with your doctor is key. It takes a team to develop and maintain a successful health program. You and your healthcare professionals each play an important role in maintaining and improving your heart health.

Work with your doctor to determine your risk and the best approach to manage it. In all cases, lifestyle changes are important to reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke. In some cases, cholesterol-lowering statin medicines may also provide benefit.

Learn how to make diet and lifestyle changes easy and lasting. Also make sure you understand instructions for taking medication because it won’t work if you don’t take as directed.

Lifestyle Changes:
Your diet, weight, physical activity and exposure to tobacco smoke all affect your cholesterol level.

Know Your Fats:
Knowing which fats raise LDL cholesterol and which ones don’t is the first step in lowering your risk of heart disease.

Cooking for Lower Cholesterol:
A heart-healthy eating plan can help you manage your blood cholesterol level.

Understand Drug Therapy Options:
For some people, lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to reach healthy cholesterol levels. Your doctor may prescribe medication.

Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood. It must be transported through your bloodstream by carriers called lipoproteins, they are made up of fat (lipid) and proteins.

The two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol to and from cells are low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and high-density lipoprotein, or HDL.

LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol, along with one fifth of your triglyceride level, make up your total cholesterol count, which can be determined through a blood test.

LDL Cholesterol:
Is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, a heart attack or stroke can occur. Another condition called peripheral artery disease can develop when plaque buildup narrows an artery supplying blood to the legs.

HDL Cholesterol:
Is considered the “good” cholesterol because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries. Experts believe HDL acts as a scavenger, carrying LDL away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is broken down and passed from the body. One-fourth to one-thrid of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL. A healthy level of HDL cholesterol may also protect against heart attack and stroke, while low levels of HDL cholesterol have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.

Triglycerides:
Are another type of fat, and they’re used to store excess energy from your diet. High levels of triglycerides in the blood are associated with atherosclerosis. Elevated triglycerides can be caused by overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption and a diet very high in carbohydrates (more than 60 percent of total calories). Underlying diseases or genetic disorders are sometimes the cause of high triglycerides. People with high triglycerides often have a high total cholesterol level, including a high LDL level and low HDL level. Many people with heart disease or diabetes also have high triglyceride levels.