Hypercholesterolemia is a condition characterized by high levels of cholesterol in the blood and has a variety of causes and symptoms. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is produced in the body and obtained from foods that come from animals (particularly egg yolks, meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products). While the body needs cholesterol to build cell membranes, make certain hormones and produce compounds that aid in fat digestion, hypercholesterolemia (too much cholesterol) can increase a person’s risk for a number of disorders including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Poor circulation to extremities
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)


Hypercholesterolemia has a variety of causes. While sometimes the HDL (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or "good" cholesterol) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol) levels in the body, along with triglycerides, can be manipulated by genetic predisposition there are a number of other factors that contribute to hypercholesterolemia. These may include:

  • Dietary choices
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Weight
  • Activity level
  • Age and gender
  • Pre-existing disease (hypothyroidism, chronic kidney disease and other renal problems)
  • Smoking (smoking can lower HDL —good cholesterol)
  • Certain medications (thiazide diuretics, beta-blockers, estrogen and corticosteroids all have the potential to raise triglycerides and lower HDL)


Hypercholesterolemia is typically asymptomatic. It does not make and individual feel sick or present with obvious signs or symptoms. It is typically discovered during routine blood work to measure cholesterol levels. For many older adults it's typically discovered as a result of checking into another problem such as a growing heart condition or problem in the pancreas. Note that over time, hypercholesterolemia that is left unchecked can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

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