Cholesterol Prevention: What can you do?

You can help prevent and manage high cholesterol by making healthy choices and by managing any health conditions you may have.

• Practice healthy living habits
• Prevent or treat medical conditions
• Cholesterol-lowering medication

Preventing or Managing High Cholesterol: Healthy Living Habits

By living a healthy lifestyle, you can help keep your cholesterol in a healthy range and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. A healthy lifestyle includes:

1. Eating a healthy diet.
2. Maintaining a healthy weight.
3. Getting enough physical activity.
4. Not smoking.
5. Limiting alcohol use.

Healthy Diet

Choosing healthy meal and snack options can help you avoid high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and its complications. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Eating foods low in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol as well as foods high in fiber, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats can help prevent and manage high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing “good” high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Try to:

• Eat less saturated fats, which comes from animal products (like cheese, fatty meats, and dairy desserts) and tropical oils (like palm oil).
• Stay away from trans fats, which may be in baked goods (like cookies and cake), snack foods (like microwave popcorn), fried foods, and margarines.
• Limit foods that are high in cholesterol, including fatty meats and organ meat (like liver and kidney).
• Choose low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt.
• Eat more foods that are high in fiber, like oatmeal, oat bran, beans, and lentils.
• Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fruits and is low in salt and sugar.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk for high cholesterol. To determine if your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate your body mass index (BMI). If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at CDC’s Assessing Your Weight web site. Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to measure excess body fat.

Physical Activity

Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels. For adults, the Surgeon General recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week. Children and adolescents should get 1 hour of physical activity every day.

No Smoking

Cigarette smoking damages your blood vessels, speeds up the hardening of the arteries, and greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit.

Limited Alcohol

Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can raise your cholesterol. Men should have no more than 2 drinks per day, and women only 1.

Preventing or Managing High Cholesterol: Other Medical Conditions

Reasons some people have high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels include: genetic factors, having high levels of triglycerides, having type 2 diabetes, taking certain medications, smoking, being overweight, eating unhealthy, and not being physically active.

If you are concerned about your cholesterol, talk to your healthcare provider about checking your lipid profile and finding out your risk for heart disease and then create a heart-healthy plan together that works best for you.

 

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Check Cholesterol

Your health care provider should test your cholesterol levels at least once every 4 to 6 years if you have not been diagnosed with heart disease. Some people need to get their cholesterol checked more or less often. Talk with your health care team about this simple blood test and about what is best for you. If you have high LDL cholesterol, medications and lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk for heart disease.

Manage Diabetes

If your health care provider thinks you have symptoms of diabetes, he or she may recommend that you get tested. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels carefully. Talk with your health care team about treatment options. Your doctor may recommend certain lifestyle changes to help keep your blood sugar under good control—those actions will help reduce your risk for high LDL cholesterol.

Take Your Medicine

If you take medication to treat high LDL cholesterol, heart disease, or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Always ask questions if you don’t understand something. Never stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor or pharmacist.

Talk With Your Health Care Team

You and your health care team can work together to prevent or treat diabetes and ensure it doesn’t lead to high LDL cholesterol. Discuss your treatment plan regularly, and bring a list of questions to your appointments.

Cholesterol-lowering Medication

If you have high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, you can take steps to lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Your doctor may prescribe medicine in addition to lifestyle changes to control your LDL cholesterol level.

Your health care team will evaluate your cholesterol levels and other risk factors to determine your overall risk for heart disease and stroke and decide whether you need treatment to lower your cholesterol. Your doctor may prescribe medication if:

• You previously had a heart attack or stroke.
• Your LDL cholesterol level is 190 mg/dL or higher.
• You are 40–75 years old with diabetes and LDL cholesterol of 70 mg/dL or higher.
• You are 40–75 years old with a high risk for developing heart disease or stroke and LDL cholesterol of 70 mg/dL or higher.


Discuss with your health care team about your overall cardiovascular health and how you may be able to reduce your cardiovascular disease risk.

Cholesterol-lowering Medication

Several types of medications help lower LDL cholesterol. The chart below describes each type and how it works. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also provides a quick reference list of medicines to treat high LDL cholesterol.

Type of Medicine How it Works
Statins Statin drugs lower LDL cholesterol by slowing down the liver’s production of cholesterol. They also increase the liver’s ability to remove LDL cholesterol that is already in the blood.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers advice on the risks related to taking statins:

• Controlling Cholesterol with Statins
• FDA Expands Advice on Statin Risks

Bile acid sequestrants Bile acid sequestrants help remove cholesterol from the blood stream by removing bile acids. The body needs bile acids and makes them by breaking down LDL cholesterol.
Niacin, or nicotinic acid Niacin is a B vitamin that can improve all lipoprotein levels. Nicotinic acid raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels while lowering total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
Fibrates Fibrates mainly lower triglycerides and, to a lesser extent, increase HDL levels.

Creating a Treatment Plan

Your treatment plan for high LDL cholesterol will depend on your current LDL level and your risk for heart disease and stroke. Your risk for heart disease and stroke depends on other risk factors, including high blood pressure and high blood pressure treatment, smoking status, age, HDL cholesterol level, total cholesterol level, diabetes, and family history.