Cholesterol is both good and bad. At normal levels, it is an essential substance for the body. However, if concentrations in the blood get too high, it becomes a silent danger that puts YOU at risk of heart attack. A person with high cholesterol levels often has no signs or symptoms, but routine screening and regular blood tests can help detect high levels.
A person who does not undergo testing may have a heart attack without warning, because they did not know that they had high cholesterol levels. Regular tests can help to reduce this risk.
Cholesterol is present in every cell of the body and has important natural functions when it comes to digesting foods, producing hormones, and generating vitamin D. The body produces it, but people also consume it in food. It is waxy and fat-like in appearance.
Cholesterol is an oil-based substance. It does not mix with the blood, which is water-based. It travels around the body in lipoproteins. There are two types of cholesterol:
low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol
high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or “good” cholesterol
A build-up of cholesterol is part of the process that narrows arteries, called atherosclerosis. In atherosclerosis, plaques form and cause restriction of blood flow. Risk factors for high cholesterol include family history and the modifiable lifestyle choices of diet and exercise. If lifestyle changes are unsuccessful or cholesterol levels are very high, a doctor may prescribe a lipid-lowering drug, such as a statin.