What are the risk factors for high cholesterol?

High Cholesterol Risk Factors
Certain health conditions, your lifestyle, and your family history can increase your risk for high cholesterol. These are called risk factors.

Some of these risk factors can’t be controlled, like your age or your family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk for high cholesterol by changing things you can control.

Some risk factors for high cholesterol can’t be controlled, like your age or your family history.

Learn more about high cholesterol risk factors:

• Conditions
• Behavior
• Family history and other characteristics

Conditions That Increase Risk for High Cholesterol

Diabetes mellitus increases the risk for high cholesterol.1 Your body needs glucose (sugar) for energy. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps move glucose from the food you eat to your body’s cells. If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, can’t use its own insulin as well as it should, or both.

Diabetes causes sugars to build up in the blood. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage diabetes and control other risk factors.

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Behaviors That Increase Your Risk for High Cholesterol

Your lifestyle choices can increase your risk for high cholesterol. To reduce your risk, your doctor may recommend changes to your lifestyle.

The good news is that healthy behaviors can lower your risk for high cholesterol.

Unhealthy Diet

Diets high in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol have been linked to high cholesterol and related conditions, such as heart disease.

Physical Inactivity

Not getting enough physical activity can make you gain weight, which can lead to high cholesterol.


Obesity is excess body fat. Obesity is linked to higher triglycerides and higher “bad” cholesterol levels, and lower “good” cholesterol levels. In addition to high cholesterol, obesity can also lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Talk to your health care team about a plan to reduce your weight to a healthy level.

Family History and Other Characteristics That Increase Risk for High Cholesterol

Family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles, and environments that can influence their health and their risk for disease. High cholesterol can run in a family, and your risk for high cholesterol can increase based on your age and your race or ethnicity.

Genetics and Family History

When members of a family pass traits from one generation to another through genes, that process is called heredity.

Genetic factors likely play some role in high cholesterol, heart disease, and other related conditions. However, it is also likely that people with a family history of high cholesterol share common environments and other potential factors that increase their risk.

If you have a family history of high cholesterol, you are more likely to have high cholesterol. You may need to get your cholesterol levels checked more often than people who do not have a family history of high cholesterol.

The risk for high cholesterol can increase even more when heredity combines with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as eating an unhealthy diet.

Some people have an inherited genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia. This condition causes very high “bad” cholesterol levels beginning at a young age.

Other Characteristics

Both men and women can have high cholesterol. Some other characteristics that you cannot control, like your age and race or ethnicity, can affect your risk for high cholesterol.


Because your cholesterol tends to rise as you get older, your risk for high cholesterol increases with age.


Levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, rise more quickly for women than for men. However, until around age 55, women tend to have lower LDL levels than men do. At any age, men tend to have lower high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol, than women do.

Race or ethnicity.

Cholesterol levels vary by race, ethnicity, and sex. The chart below shows the percentages of people with high LDL cholesterol (130 mg/dL or more) in the United States. What are the ideal levels of cholesterol?

Racial or Ethnic Group Men (%) Women (%)
Non-Hispanic blacks 30.7 33.6
Mexican Americans 38.8 31.8
Non-Hispanic whites 29.4 32.0
All 31.0 32.0