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Recall the last time you saw a TV commercial for a cholesterol-lowering medication. Was the person featured in the ad a baby boomer (or older)? Quite likely, the answer is yes. High cholesterol tends to be associated with older adults.

Still, that doesn’t mean younger people can’t also experience HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol numbers outside the healthy range. For a variety of reasons — including genetic factors, diet, and body weight — people as young as their teens and 20s may find themselves in this position.

Discovering you have high cholesterol at a young age can be unsettling. But you’re not without options for treatment and prevention.

Read on for what you need to know about living with hyperlipidemia (aka high cholesterol) as a younger person.

In general, it’s more common for middle-aged or older people to have high cholesterol than younger people. That said, high cholesterol isn’t a condition that only occurs in older people.

Though less common, it’s entirely possible for folks in their younger years to have hyperlipidemia (also called hypercholesterolemia). Even young children can sometimes have this issue.

If you have high cholesterol as a younger person, it’s important to be proactive about managing your condition. High blood lipids at any age increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

And, according to a 2020 study, the younger you have high cholesterol, the greater your risk may be for cardiovascular disease throughout your lifetime.

Researchers in this study found that arterial damage from elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol seems to be cumulative — making it all the more critical to stay on top of treatment earlier in life.

High cholesterol in younger adults is more common than you might expect.

Researchers in a recent study determined that 26.3 million U.S. young adults (18 to 39 years old) had borderline high or high LDL (bad) cholesterol in 2021. That’s 27% of the population at that age.

Hyperlipidemia generally doesn’t have any symptoms, so the only way to know if you have it is to get tested. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people ages 20 and older at low risk of cardiovascular disease get tested every 5 years.

People with risk factors (like obesity or a family history of heart attacks) are recommended to get their cholesterol checked more frequently.

Here is a quick guide to cholesterol levels by age, according to 2018 guidelines from several national expert panels. (Note: Since HDL cholesterol is the “good” kind, higher amounts of it are generally better.)

People under age 20HDL: 45 mg/dL or higher
LDL: less than 110 mg/dL
Total cholesterol: less than 170 mg/dL
LDL: 110–129 mg/dL
Total cholesterol: 170–199 mg/dL
LDL: 130 mg/dL or higher
Total cholesterol: 200 mg/dL or higher
People over age 20HDL: 40 mg/dL or higher for men; 50 mg/dL or higher for women
LDL: less than 100 mg/dL
Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL
LDL: 130–159 mg/dL
Total cholesterol: 200–239 mg/dL
LDL: 160–189mg/dL
Total cholesterol: 200 mg/dL or higher

Sometimes, having high cholesterol as a younger person is simply luck of the genetic draw. Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is an inherited condition that causes the body to abnormally recycle LDL cholesterol.

According to the American Heart Association, 1 in about 200 adults have this genetic mutation (though only about 10% are aware of it). Left untreated, FH typically develops into coronary heart disease.

For some young adults, other health and lifestyle factors play the primary role in causing high cholesterol, such as:

  • obesity
  • smoking
  • certain medications
  • sedentary lifestyle

A diet high in saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars (and low in fiber) may especially increase your risk.

Having diabetes might also affect your numbers. A condition known as diabetic dyslipidemia can raise both your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol.

Young adults have a variety of options for treating high cholesterol. If you’ve received a diagnosis of this condition, talk with a doctor about the best ways to treat it.

Some strategies a doctor may recommend include:

  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • eating a diet low in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars
  • eating a diet high in fiber and antioxidants
  • not smoking
  • reducing alcohol consumption
  • taking statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications
  • increasing physical activity to at least 30 minutes per day
  • adding natural supplements to your medication regimen

A diagnosis of high cholesterol in your teens, 20s, or 30s may be concerning, but it is treatable. With the right protocol of medication, lifestyle modification, or both, you may be able to move your numbers to a healthier range.