High cholesterol is a medical diagnosis that refers to the levels of lipoproteins, waxy substances known as LDL and HDL, which exist in your bloodstream. Although cholesterol plays an important role in building healthy cells, too much in your bloodstream can lead to health problems. Determining the presence of high LDL cholesterol levels requires medical tests.
Two main types of cholesterol make up your blood cholesterol level. Low density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol is the most abundant and dangerous type, while high density lipoproteins (HDL) is the beneficial type of cholesterol that helps reduce your risk of certain health conditions that result from high levels of LDL cholesterol.
There are generally no preliminary signs or symptoms of elevated LDL levels in the bloodstream. However, serious symptoms may occur when the build-up of lipoproteins lead to angina and heart attack. These symptoms occur when excess levels of LDL causes fatty deposits to accumulate along the inner walls of your blood vessels, constricting the blood flow and starving your heart of essential oxygen. Even mild bouts of chest pain may indicate the presence of high cholesterol and require a doctor's diagnosis to rule out other serious health conditions.
A lipid panel or lipid profile is a test that provides information regarding the amount of both LDL and HDL cholesterol in your blood. This test requires a period of fasting prior to drawing a blood sample. The healthiest levels of LDL are ones that fall below 70 mg/dl, while a reading between 130 and 159 mg/dl is high and a reading above 190 mg/dl is very high. HDL readings above 60 mg/dl are best. These tests are often part of regular health screenings, especially in individuals at an increased risk for high cholesterol.
Most people can control their cholesterol levels through diet and exercise although some require prescription medications. Losing weight while eliminating transfats, such as those found in margarine and commercially prepared cookies and crackers, may help lower cholesterol. Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains may also help lower LDL levels. Prescription medications for high LDL levels include statins, such as fluvastatin and lovastatin. Other medicines that lower dangerous lipoproteins include cholesterol absorption inhibitors, such as ezetimibe, and bile-acid-binding resins, such as colesevelam and colestipol.