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High cholesterol can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Buildup of cholesterol in the arteries is also known as atherosclerosis — sometimes called hardening of the arteries. When arteries are clogged, there is a greater risk of problems such as heart attack and stroke.

Man picking fruit to help manage his cholesterol


What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that helps make vitamins and hormones in the body. It also travels in the bloodstream in small packages of lipoproteins (fat + protein).


Types of cholesterol.

“Good” cholesterol (HDL) is made up of high-density lipoproteins. “Bad” cholesterol (LDL) is made up of low-density lipoproteins. LDL can lead to cholesterol buildup and plaque in blood vessels, causing narrowing and hardening of the arteries, which triggers a condition called high blood cholesterol and increases the risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Triglycerides are another form of fat found in the blood. Calories you eat that your body doesn’t need right away become triglycerides and are stored in your fat cells.

Cholesterol Levels

MeasurementsDesirableBorderlineAt Risk
Total cholesterolLess than 200 mg/dL200-239 mg/dL240 mg/dL or higher
HDL60 mg/dL or higher 
  • Men: Less than 40 mg/dL
  • Women: Less than 50 mg/dL
LDLLess than 100 mg/dL130-159 mg/dL
  • 160-189 mg/dL
  • Very high: 190 mg/dL or higher
TriglyceridesLess than 150 mg/dL150-199 mg/dL
  • 200-499 mg/dL
  • Very high: 500 mg/dL or higher


Know your risk for high cholesterol.

There are certain health conditions, behaviors, and age factors that increase your risk for high cholesterol:


How to prevent high cholesterol.

Living healthy can help you reduce your chances of having high cholesterol, decreasing your risk of heart attack and stroke.

  • Eat less saturated fat, such as cheese, fatty meats, dairy desserts, and tropical oils.
  • Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium, such as low-fat milk, yogurt, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat foods high in fiber, such as oatmeal and beans, as well as unsaturated fats, such as olive oil and nuts.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get regular physical activity.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit alcohol intake.