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High Blood Cholesterol (Hypercholesterolemia)

Abnormally high levels of cholesterol in the blood.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institutes of Health)

High Blood Cholesterol

To understand high blood cholesterol (ko-LES-ter-ol), it helps to learn about cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that's found in all cells of the body.

Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. However, cholesterol also is found in some of the foods you eat.

Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins (lip-o-PRO-teens). These packages are made of fat (lipid) on the inside and proteins on the outside.

Two kinds of lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout your body: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Having healthy levels of both types of lipoproteins is important.

LDL cholesterol sometimes is called "bad" cholesterol. A high LDL level leads to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries. (Arteries... Read more about High Blood Cholesterol

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Statins for children with inherited high blood cholesterol

Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited disease in which blood cholesterol level is high. Vascular diseases often occur at an earlier age than usual, especially amongst men. Thus lifelong therapies to reduce blood cholesterol (started in childhood) are needed. In children with familial hypercholesterolemia, diet has been the main treatment option. Resins, such as cholestyramine and colestipol, have also been used effectively to lower low‐density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. However, these usually taste unpleasant and are poorly tolerated; so they are poorly adhered to. Since the 1990s statin trials have been carried out among children and adolescents with familial hypercholesterolemia. Statins have decreased their serum LDL cholesterol levels by about one third in these studies. Additionally, in one study, statins improved the arterial function and in another study they reduced the thickness of the already thickened neck artery. Even though statins seem to be safe and well‐tolerated in children, their long‐term safety in this age group is not firmly established.

Artichoke leaf extract for treating high cholesterol levels

Too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to cholesterol depositing on the walls of the arteries (major blood vessels). This blocks the arteries and can cause heart attacks and strokes. High cholesterol can be lowered by quitting smoking, dietary changes and exercise. Some drugs such as statins are also used, but these can have adverse events.

Currently there is no clear evidence that cholesterol drugs reduce melanoma risk.

Some studies have suggested that medicines (such as statins and fibrates) taken to lower blood cholesterol may reduce the risk of melanoma skin cancer. Our review of 16 studies did not find any clear evidence to support such a suggestion, but we cannot exclude a useful effect of such drugs until more studies become available.

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Summaries for consumers

Taking Dietary Supplements With Heart, Blood Pressure, or Cholesterol Medicines: A Review of the Research for Adults

This summary explains that there is not enough research about taking dietary supplements along with CV medicines to know for sure if supplements are helpful or harmful. Dietary supplements can be taken for many reasons other than CV problems. This summary only talks about the research on taking certain dietary supplements at the same time as a CV medicine. This summary can help you talk with your doctor about taking dietary supplements.

Statins for children with inherited high blood cholesterol

Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited disease in which blood cholesterol level is high. Vascular diseases often occur at an earlier age than usual, especially amongst men. Thus lifelong therapies to reduce blood cholesterol (started in childhood) are needed. In children with familial hypercholesterolemia, diet has been the main treatment option. Resins, such as cholestyramine and colestipol, have also been used effectively to lower low‐density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. However, these usually taste unpleasant and are poorly tolerated; so they are poorly adhered to. Since the 1990s statin trials have been carried out among children and adolescents with familial hypercholesterolemia. Statins have decreased their serum LDL cholesterol levels by about one third in these studies. Additionally, in one study, statins improved the arterial function and in another study they reduced the thickness of the already thickened neck artery. Even though statins seem to be safe and well‐tolerated in children, their long‐term safety in this age group is not firmly established.

High cholesterol: Does reducing the amount of fat in your diet help?

Reducing the amount of saturated fats in your diet seems to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fats are mainly found in animal food products.

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Terms to know

Blood Cholesterol
A type of fat produced by the liver and found in the blood. Cholesterol is also found in some foods. The body uses cholesterol to make hormones and build cell walls.
Dietary Cholesterol
A waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver, and found in the blood and in all cells of the body. Cholesterol is important for good health and is needed for making cell walls, tissues, hormones, vitamin D, and bile acid. Cholesterol also comes from eating foods taken from animals such as egg yolks, meat, and whole-milk dairy products.
Dietary Fat
One of the three main nutrients in food. Foods that provide fat are butter, margarine, salad dressing, oil, nuts, meat, poultry, fish, and some dairy products.
HDL Cholesterol (High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol)
HDL cholesterol stands for high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, which is a fat found in the blood that takes extra cholesterol from the blood to the liver for removal. Sometimes called "good" cholesterol.
Hyperlipidemia
Abnormally high levels of lipids (cholesterol, triglycerides) in the blood.
LDL Cholesterol (Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol)
LDL cholesterol stands for low-density lipoprotein cholesterol; a fat found in the blood that takes cholesterol around the body to where it is needed for cell repair and also deposits it on the inside of artery walls. Sometimes called "bad" cholesterol.
Lipids
A term for fat in the body. Lipids can be broken down by the body and used for energy.
Lipoproteins
Lipid-protein complexes involved in the transportation and metabolism of lipids in the body.
Saturated Fat
A type of dietary fat that can increase the risk of heart disease. Saturated fat is found in meat, poultry skin, butter, lard, shortening, and all milk and dairy products except fat-free versions.
Trans Fat
A type of fat that has certain chemical properties and is usually found in processed foods such as baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, shortening, margarine, and certain vegetable oils. Eating trans fat increases blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.
Very Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (VLDL cholesterol)
VLDL stands for very-low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. A form of cholesterol in the blood. High levels may be related to cardiovascular disease.

More about High Blood Cholesterol

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Also called: Hypercholesterolaemia

See Also: Atherosclerosis

Other terms to know: See all 11
Blood Cholesterol, Dietary Cholesterol, Dietary Fat

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