See a doctor Skip to content

What is high cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance in your blood that helps your body make vitamin D, hormones and cells. You need some cholesterol in order to keep your body healthy, known as good cholesterol, but there is a bad type too, which can lead to serious complications.

Bad cholesterol can form fatty deposits in your arteries and blood vessels, which can change their structure and narrow them. This can reduce blood flow and cause dangerous conditions, such as a heart attack, stroke, mini stroke, peripheral arterial disease or a narrowing of your arteries.

The cholesterol in your body is carried in your blood by either low-density lipoproteins (LDL cholesterol) or high-density lipoproteins (HDL cholesterol). LDL is also referred to as bad cholesterol, whilst HDL is good cholesterol. As suggested by the name, the LDL is the one to watch out for, as it can lead to the complications we’ve mentioned.

Here’s a bit more information about the types of cholesterol and fats in your blood:

  • high density lipoprotein, or HDL - carries good cholesterol around the body. These can pick up low density lipoproteins and carry them back to the liver, where they can be flushed out of your body.
  • low density lipoprotein, or LDL - transports bad cholesterol in your blood, which can collect in your blood vessels and arteries, causing a lack of blood flow around your body, leading to complications.
  • triglycerides - these are another form of fat in your body and is used by your body for energy. Having a high level of them, which is the case if you’re overweight or obese, can put you at a higher risk of developing a cardiovascular disease.

High cholesterol symptoms

High cholesterol doesn’t actually have any symptoms, so without a blood test, you won’t know you have it. Sometimes it’s only diagnosed after a serious event has taken place, like a heart attack or stroke.

High cholesterol diagnosis

A doctor can assess the likelihood of you having high cholesterol by reviewing your medical and family history, risk factors and by referring you for a blood test. The blood test will check your cholesterol levels including your:

  • total cholesterol
  • HDL cholesterol
  • LDL cholesterol
  • triglycerides

For more detailed information about what happens in a video consultation with Push Doctor, click here.

High cholesterol causes

Cholesterol levels are influenced by many different factors including lifestyle, diet, medical conditions and genetics. Risks include:

  • being overweight or obese
  • your diet
  • your age
  • not exercising
  • smoking
  • drinking too much alcohol - this can cause damage to your liver and raise your cholesterol levels.
  • your waist circumference
  • genetics
  • your gender
  • your ethnicity

High cholesterol levels can also develop because of other medical conditions, or because of certain medications.


Read more about the causes of high cholesterol.

High cholesterol treatment

High cholesterol can be treated by addressing the things that cause it. This can include changes to your diet and lifestyle, or it may include medication prescribed by a doctor.

In order for your treatment to be effective, it will be tailored to you. This is why it helps our doctors to have as much information as possible. Learn more about how high cholesterol can be treated.

High cholesterol in pregnancy

High cholesterol in pregnancy can be common. Your body goes through many changes, including elevated levels of cholesterol. This is a normal part of pregnancy and helps your baby develop, so it is not usually a sign that anything is wrong. However, if you already have high cholesterol, or if it is persistent, the condition can be harder to control when you’re pregnant and not all medications are safe to take whilst pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you are worried about your high cholesterol levels or want to know more about how high cholesterol can affect your pregnancy or your baby, then our doctors are here to help. They will provide all the reassurance and advice you need.

Some medications also aren’t suitable when you’re trying to conceive, so you should speak to a doctor for more advice.

Read further information about high cholesterol in pregnancy.

Related Articles on High Cholesterol