How we measure and treat this common condition
Expert Heart & Vascular Care
Getting the care you need starts with seeing one of our heart or vascular specialists.
Cholesterol is a type of fat in your blood that the body needs to build cells. However, when there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it can build up in the walls of the arteries. This can cause the arteries to harden and narrow, known as atherosclerosis, making it difficult for blood to flow through the body.
High cholesterol, also known as hypercholesterolemia, by itself does not cause symptoms, so you may not know your cholesterol is high. But if the artery becomes completely blocked, it can result in a heart attack or stroke.
In rare cases, high cholesterol can be caused by an inherited genetic mutation (familial hypercholesterolemia), but more often, it’s the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices.
We measure cholesterol with a simple blood test done after a nine- to 12-hour fast. The test tells us about your:
- Total cholesterol
- LDL (bad) cholesterol, the main source of blockage in the arteries
- HDL (good) cholesterol, which helps keep cholesterol from building up and protects against heart disease
- Triglycerides, another type of fat in your blood
Cholesterol is measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. Optimal levels for people without other health conditions are:
- Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL
- LDL (bad) cholesterol: Less than 100 mg/dL
- HDL (good) cholesterol: Above 60 mg/dL
- Triglycerides: Less than 100 mg/dL
Making healthy lifestyle changes often is the first line of defense against high cholesterol. This can include:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
If making these lifestyle changes isn’t enough to lower your cholesterol, your doctor may recommend medication, such as statins, bile acid sequestrants or cholesterol absorption inhibitors.