The Silent Dangers of High Cholesterol

Published: Thursday, March 10, 2022
Cardiologist at Georgia Heart Institute

Some of the risk factors for heart disease are pretty obvious. If you’re a smoker, you know you smoke. If you’re stressed, you probably feel the stress fairly often. But if you have high cholesterol, you may have no idea.

That’s because people who have high cholesterol usually experience no visible symptoms. Instead, cholesterol builds up in the body over time, silently increasing your risk of developing heart disease or heart health issues, such as a heart attack.

If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, what should you know about the condition? Read on as we take a deeper dive into some common questions about the topic.

Is High Cholesterol a Risk Factor for Heart Disease?

Yes, it is. But it’s important to note that there are different types of cholesterol. If you’ve ever seen a lipids panel, which is a lab test looking at your cholesterol, you may have heard of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol.

LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, is often called “bad” cholesterol. You want your LDL to be low. On the other hand, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is actually good for you—you want that reading to be high.

Those two readings add together to measure your total cholesterol. You want that number to be on the lower end of the scale, too. If it’s edged a little higher because your HDL is high, though, that’s usually OK.

If your cholesterol is high, the extra cholesterol in your body builds up in your arteries. Over time, that plaque buildup can narrow the arteries, making it more difficult for blood to move from your heart to the rest of the body. This puts you at risk of serious health issues, including heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.

Should I Be Worried About High Cholesterol? 

If you’re one of the 93 million Americans ages 20 or older who has been diagnosed with high cholesterol, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

You should have your cholesterol checked on a regular basis and talk with your medical provider about ways to get your cholesterol to a healthy range. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 20 and older have their cholesterol checked at least every five years.

Those with heart disease risk factors, such as high cholesterol, should have a cholesterol check more frequently. Your medical provider can recommend how often you should have yours tested based on your overall health and other factors.

Can You Live a Long Life With High Cholesterol?

Yes, you can. Consider a diagnosis of high cholesterol a warning flag for your heart health. Most Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease. What’s important is that you be mindful of your risk factors and take steps to lower your risk whenever possible.

If you have high cholesterol, do what you can to get your cholesterol a normal range. Talk with your medical provider about steps you can take, which may include exercising regularly, getting to a healthy weight, eating a diet low in saturated fat and added sugar, and not smoking.

These lifestyle habits can help lower your LDL and total cholesterol while also giving your HDL cholesterol a healthy boost.

Depending on your cholesterol level and whether you have other risk factors, your medical provider may also recommend taking medications to help lower your cholesterol to a normal range.