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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

High cholesterol

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Heart Foundation healthy heart graphicCholesterol is a type of fat called a lipid, which is mainly made in your liver. Your body needs it to function normally.

Having very high levels of cholesterol (called hyperlipidaemia) can make your blood vessels narrow, reducing blood flow and increasing your chance of getting a blood clot. This can lead to serious health problems, such as atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), heart attack, stroke, transient ischaemia attack (TIA) and peripheral vascular disease.

Heart risk assessments

High cholesterol is just one of the risk factors for heart attack and stroke.

Your GP or nurse can help you do a Heart risk assessment or you can do it yourself. A heart risk assessment gives an estimate of how likely you are to have a heart attack or stroke within the next five years. It takes into account your health and risk factors.

The age you should start having heart risk assessments depends on your sex, ethnicity and other risk factors. See Heart risk assessment for details.

Causes of high cholesterol

High cholesterol can be caused by being overweight, having an unhealthy diet, smoking and diabetes. High cholesterol can also run in families, including a condition known as familial hypercholesterolaemia.

We eat different types of fats and they have different effects on our cholesterol levels. Eating a lot of unhealthy fat (fat on meat, chicken skin and full-fat dairy products, butter and takeaway foods) can lead to higher cholesterol.

Ways to reduce cholesterol

Eating more healthy fats (vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, seeds and fish) can help lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Eating healthy and nutritious foods will improve your health and lower your cholesterol and heart risk.

As well as watching what you eat, aiming for a healthy weight, keeping physically active and reducing alcohol can help to improve your cholesterol levels.

Along with these lifestyle changes, cholesterol-lowering medicines can be an effective way to help bring down your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Cholesterol-lowering medicines

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed December 2021.

See also:

Heart attack

High triglycerides

How to lose weight

Meal planning & recipes

Reading food labels

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Review key: HIHCH-53809