What Is High Cholesterol?

Believe it or not, your body needs the waxy, fat-like substance known as cholesterol. Your body makes cholesterol naturally, but when there’s too much of it in your blood, it can build up on the walls of your arteries and lead to health complications, such as stroke and heart disease.

Who Is at Risk?

Anyone, including children, can develop high cholesterol. Several factors can increase this risk, including:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Family history
  • Diet high in unsaturated fats and cholesterol
  • Being overweight
  • Physical inactivity

Symptoms and Diagnosis

High cholesterol, alone, has no specific symptoms. Most people who are diagnosed (through a simple blood test) are unaware that their cholesterol is abnormal. This is why it’s important to schedule regular visits to your health care provider.

What Cholesterol Levels Are Considered Healthy?

Category Desirable Levels Borderline Risk Elevated Risk
Total Cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL* 200 to 239 mg/dL 240 mg/dL or higher
LDL (“Bad” Cholesterol) Less than 100 mg/dL 100 to 159 mg/dL 160 mg/dL or higher
HDL (“Good” Cholesterol) 60 mg/dL or higher 40 to 59 mg/dL 39 mg/dL or lower
Triglycerides 150 to 199 mg/dL 200 mg/dL or higher

*Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood.

Treatment and Prevention

If you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, you will need to take action. Improvement can be accomplished by eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, quitting tobacco and taking medication if prescribed by a doctor.

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet (TLC)

The TLC diet is recommended for people who want to lower their cholesterol. The TLC program includes various positive lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, excercise, weight loss and tobacco cessation. Diet changes are often the first attempt at lowering cholesterol before medication.

Some components of the TLC diet include:

  • Reducing saturated fats
  • Limiting meat and dairy products
  • Replacing most animal fats with unsaturated fats (found in sources like olive, peanut and canola oil)
  • Avoiding trans fat
  • Adding soluble fiber to your diet (such as oats, beans and fruit)

To discover more about the TLC diet and see if it’s right for you, talk with your primary care doctor.


“Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) for High Cholesterol- Topic Overview,” WebMD Staff, webmd.com, Nov. 9, 2016.

“Know the Facts About High Cholesterol,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.com, Sept. 12, 2016.

“High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need To Know,” National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, nhlbi.nih.gov, Sept. 12, 2016.