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I'm a Doctor and These are Signs You Have High Cholesterol

How to have your healthiest heart.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

About 38% of American adults suffer from high cholesterol and many of them are not aware of that fact. As an emergency medicine physician, too often I see the effects of people ignoring high cholesterol which is linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. High cholesterol could be also tied to diabetes and high blood pressure. Read on to learn more about high cholesterol—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is Cholesterol?

woman consulting with female doctor

"Your body needs it to build cells and make vitamins and other hormones," says the American Heart Association. "Cholesterol circulates in the blood. As the amount of cholesterol in your blood increases, so does the risk to your health. High cholesterol contributes to a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and stroke."


What Factors Can Affect Cholesterol Levels


Factors within your control include:

  • Diet: Eating a diet of foods high in saturated and trans fats can increase your levels of LDL cholesterol, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). You should avoid having 10% or more of your total daily calories come from saturated fats, and avoid trans fats as much as possible. 
  • Weight: Being overweight or obese tends to increase your cholesterol, and is a risk factor for heart disease, according to the National Library of Medicine. While there are some things that may be out of your control that can affect weight including certain conditions and side effects of some medications, if you're interested in maintaining a healthy weight, you can bring up the topic with your health care provider.
  • Smoking: Smoking cigarettes can both increase levels of LDL cholesterol and decrease levels of HDL cholesterol. 
  • Physical activity: A lack of physical activity is associated with lower levels of HDL cholesterol. 

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What Cholesterol Levels Factors Are Outside Your Control

Blood Cholesterol Report Test Healthcare

Factors outside your control include:

  • Age: Though high cholesterol can affect people of any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in those between the ages of 40 and 59, according to the NHLBI. This is because as you age your metabolism changes, and your liver is no longer able to remove LDL cholesterol as well as it used to. 
  • Sex: Men are more likely to have high cholesterol than women when they are between the ages of 20 and 39, but women are more likely to have high cholesterol at all other ages, according to the NHLBI. Womens' risk of high cholesterol can also increase due to birth control pills, menopause, and pregnancy.
  • Race/ethnicity: Your race and ethnicity can impact your risk of having high cholesterol. For example, non-Hispanic white people are more likely than other groups to have high total cholesterol, while studies say that Black people are more likely than other groups to have high levels of HDL cholesterol, according to the NHLBI. 
  • Family history/genetics: The amount of cholesterol your body produces is genetic, and high cholesterol can run in families.

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How You Can Detect High Cholesterol

Cholesterol Test

High cholesterol has no symptoms. Regular blood tests are the only way to detect if you may have elevated cholesterol levels. If you have additional risk factors, your doctor may want to run cholesterol tests more frequently. 

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How Often You Should Test For High Cholesterol

Female doctor in mask making notes in medical card while talking to patient at hospital

The CDC recommends that healthy children and adolescents get tested at least once between ages 9 and 11, and then again between the ages of 17 and 21. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, stroke, or heart attack, you may want to get your child tested earlier—as young as age two. Most healthy adults, on the other hand, should get their cholesterol tested every 4-6 years, according to the CDC. You may want to get checked more often if you deal with diabetes or heart disease, or have a family history of high cholesterol. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Terez Malka, MD
Dr. Sarah Terez Malka is an Emergency Medicine Physician and Pediatrician at K Health. Read more about Terez