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High cholesterol - What is high cholesterol?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

Too much bad cholesterol in your blood increases your risk of some serious health problems. If you have high cholesterol, you are more likely to have a heart attack or a stroke. But there are things you can do to reduce your cholesterol.

We've brought together the best research about high cholesterol and weighed up the evidence about how to treat it. You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are best for you.

The term high cholesterol is a bit misleading, because there are two types of cholesterol. If you've been told you have high cholesterol, it usually means you have more of the bad type and less of the good type. This may put you at higher risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.

You won't notice if you have too much bad cholesterol, because you won't have any symptoms. The only way you can find out is to have a blood test.

Key points for people with high cholesterol

  • There are two main kinds of cholesterol: good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) and bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). Your doctor may also talk about total cholesterol and triglycerides.

  • Eating lots of saturated fats and trans fats can increase the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood. Saturated fats are found in foods such as meat, butter, and cream. Trans fats are found in biscuits, cakes, pastries, and fast food.

  • Too much bad cholesterol won't cause any symptoms, but it can increase your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.

  • You can lower your levels of bad cholesterol by changing what you eat, taking medicines, or both. This will lower your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.

  • If you smoke, stopping smoking can increase the amount of good cholesterol in your blood, which can lower your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.

What is cholesterol?

blockedartery_default.gifCholesterol is a fatty substance that is found in every cell in your body. Only a small amount of the cholesterol in your body comes directly from food. Most is made in your liver from saturated fats that you eat.

We've all started to think that fats are bad for us, but the body needs some fats to work properly. For example, fats in food are a source of energy and some vitamins.

Types of fat

There are several different types of fat in the food we eat.

Saturated fats are found in meat, pies, sausages, butter, and other dairy products. Your liver turns saturated fats into cholesterol. So, if you want to lower your cholesterol, you need to eat less saturated fat.

Unsaturated fats are divided into polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. They are found in vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, corn oil, and olive oil.

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Last Updated: July 26, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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