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What causes high cholesterol?

The cause of high cholesterol can range from your lifestyle choices, to genetics, to a medical condition. Let’s have a closer look at some of the possible causes here.

  • Being overweight or obese - if you have an unhealthy BMI, you are increasing your risk of high cholesterol.
  • Your diet - eating a lot of saturated fat and foods high in salt can cause your cholesterol levels to rise.
  • Your age - high cholesterol is more common in older people.
  • Not exercising - if you are physically inactive, your heart is not as efficient at removing bad LDL cholesterol from your blood.
  • Smoking - acrolein, a chemical ingredient in cigarettes, raises the levels of bad LDL cholesterol in your blood and can cause it to build up in your artery walls. It also lowers levels of HDL, the good cholesterol, too.
  • Drinking too much alcohol - this can cause damage to your liver and raise your cholesterol levels.
  • Having a waist circumference of 40 inches or over if you’re a man, or 35 inches or over if you’re a woman, increases your risk.
  • Genetics - familial hypercholesterolaemia is a genetic condition (although quite rare) that may cause you to have very high levels of cholesterol. Likewise, if a close family member has high cholesterol, you’re more prone to developing it.
  • Your gender - men are more prone to high cholesterol, although it is more common in women if they go through an early menopause.
  • Your ethnicity - if your heritage is Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani or Sri Lankan, you are more at risk.

There are also certain medical conditions that can put you more at risk of high cholesterol. including:

  • hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)
  • high blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • pancreatitis

Some medication can also cause a rise in cholesterol levels, including:

  • beta blockers
  • certain antidepressants
  • oestrogen
  • progestin
  • diuretics
  • anabolic steroids
  • immunosuppressants

Significant changes to your lifestyle can have a modest impact on your cholesterol levels within a few months - speak to a GP about the best way to make these changes.

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