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Signs You Have High LDL Cholesterol

Don’t ignore these warning signs of “bad” cholesterol.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

According to the CDC, 38% of Americans have high cholesterol. If left untreated, high cholesterol can lead to serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. "We usually think of HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, cholesterol as somewhat protective for our hearts and blood vessels because it absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver," says Kate Kirley, MD. "We tend to think of LDL cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, as the main type of cholesterol that we focus on as a potentially harmful cholesterol for our hearts because it collects in the walls of your blood vessels." Here are five signs your LDL cholesterol is too high, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


You Smoke Cigarettes

no smoking sign

Smoking cigarettes not only raises your LDL cholesterol, it can lower HDL cholesterol—even with e-cigarettes. "Although primary care providers and patients may think that the use of e-cigarettes by cigarette smokers makes heart-health sense, our study shows e-cigarette use is also related to differences in cholesterol levels," says Sana Majid, MD

"Providers counseling patients on the use of nicotine products will want to consider the possibility that e-cigs may confer as much and potentially even more harm to users and especially patients at risk for vascular disease," says Susan Cheng, MD.


You're Overweight

shred belly fat

Obesity and high cholesterol are strongly linked, experts say. "It can change your cholesterol levels. Most of us know that obesity can cause a spike in bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels, but did you know it can also lower good high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol? HDL cholesterol is important for removing bad cholesterol and working to reduce the risk for heart disease," says Penn Medicine.


You Have High Blood Pressure

Senior female gynecologist checking woman with blood pressure gauge in hospital.

"High cholesterol and high blood pressure tend to run together," says Dr. Kirley. "One doesn't necessarily cause the other, but it's very common to see both in an individual. And certainly, both of them contribute to raising somebody's risk for heart attack and stroke. The interventions to help—things like more physical activity and nutrition—can impact both your blood pressure and your cholesterol."


Does High Cholesterol Run In the Family?

HDL cholesterol

Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited condition that can raise the risk of high cholesterol at a young age. ​​"You can have people at age 18 have a heart attack because of it," says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. "There are absolutely proven ways to manage high cholesterol. And even if you have a significant family history, you can prevent heart disease." According to Dr. Cho, the combination of medications and a healthy diet can lower the risk of heart disease by 80%. "It's truly amazing what can be done."


Your Diet Is Terrible

man eating a burger

An unhealthy diet full of sugar, red meat, overly processed carbohydrates, baked goods and fried foods is terrible for LDL cholesterol. "High cholesterol clogs your arteries," says Julia Zumpano, RD. "Eat in a way that keeps the arteries open and clear because restricted blood flow leads to heart attacks. The amount of research that supports the Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular health is phenomenal. It's been proven to be very effective for managing heart disease."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan