Skip to Main Content
A cardiologist holds a stethoscope to check her patient's heart rate and rhythm.

High cholesterol

High cholesterol, also known as hyperlipidemia, means there is an excess of lipids or fats in the blood. Your liver digests food and makes hormones by making cholesterol. You also consume cholesterol in certain foods, but your liver makes all that your body needs to function correctly, making the cholesterol you eat excess.

Too much cholesterol can create blockages in the arteries. When it is more difficult for blood to flow through the body, the risk of stroke or heart attack increases. The plaque buildup itself can also be irritated, which will cause a clot to form around it.

Symptoms of hyperlipidemia

Hyperlipidemia does not usually show symptoms until emergency complications have presented themselves. A blood test will let you and your physician know what your cholesterol levels are. Speak with your primary care physician about when you should begin screening.

Signs of high cholesterol include:

Causes of hyperlipidemia

  • Genetics
  • Lifestyle factors
    • An unbalanced diet
    • A lack of physical activity
    • Heavy tobacco or alcohol use
  • Health conditions
  • Certain medications

Classifications of high cholesterol

  • Familial: A type that you can inherit from your parents or grandparents, increasing chances of early coronary artery disease and heart attack.
  • Acquired: This type is most often caused by certain lifestyle factors, and sometimes caused by underlying health conditions and certain medications.

Risk factors for hyperlipidemia

  • Being overweight
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol

Tips for preventing high cholesterol

  • Exercise multiple days a week
  • Avoid saturated and trans fats
  • Incorporate lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and whole grains into your diet
  • Limit red meats and processed foods

Treating high cholesterol

If making lifestyle changes isn’t effective in lowering your cholesterol levels, your physician will recommend different types of medication to help with treatment. The choice of medication or combination of medications depends on various factors, including your personal risk factors, your age, your health, and possible drug side effects.

If you are having a heart attack, which happens when parts of the heart do not receive enough blood flow, you may notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain. Pain in the center or left side of the chest is one of the most common signs of a heart attack. You may feel a tightness, fullness, or squeezing sensation that can last for several minutes.
  • Discomfort in the upper body. This can include pain in the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, back, and stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. While this symptom usually accompanies chest pain, it can occur before the discomfort starts.
  • Lightheadedness. In combination with other symptoms, feeling as though you are about to pass out is a common indicator of a heart attack.
  • Heart palpitations. You may begin to feel irregular or skipping heartbeats.

Heart attack symptoms can happen on and off, or continuously over the course of a few minutes or a few hours. Chances are, if you have been experiencing chest pain for several days or weeks, it is not related to a heart attack.

If you see somebody having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Have them chew and swallow an aspirin, which helps prevent blood clots if they are conscious. If they lose consciousness, administer CPR or follow the instructions on an automated external defibrillator (AED) if one is immediately available.

Find a Doctor

Looking for a doctor? Perform a quick search by name or browse by specialty.

Contact Our Nurse Navigator

To learn more about cardiovascular disease management or treatment options, reach out to our Nurse Navigator.