Your body needs cholesterol to work well. But cholesterol levels that are too high can harm you.
Extra cholesterol in your blood builds up inside the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called plaque, or atherosclerosis. Plaque reduces, or even stops, the blood flow. This can cause a heart attack, stroke, or other serious heart or blood vessel disease.
Your Cholesterol Numbers
Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). All men should have their blood cholesterol levels tested every 5 years, starting at age 35; all women should do the same, starting at age 45. Many people should have their blood cholesterol levels tested at a younger age, possibly as early as age 20 if they have risk factors for heart disease. Have your cholesterol checked more often (probably every year) if you have:
Getting plenty of exercise will also help. Talk with your doctor about what kind of exercise might be best for you.
American Heart Association Nutrition Committee; Lichtenstein AH, Appel LJ, Brands M, Carnethon M, Daniels S, et al. Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 2006 Jul 4;114(1):82-96.
Heimburger DC. Nutrition’s interface with health and disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. CecilMedicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 220.
Mosca L, et al. Evidence-based guidelines for cardiovascular disease prevention in women: 2011 update. Circulation. 2011;123:1243-1262.
Mozaffarian D. Nutrition and cardiovascular disease. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders; 2011:chap 48.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.