Hypercholesterolemia is also called high cholesterol. It refers to increased levels of cholesterol in the blood.

Cholesterol is a type of lipid (fat), a waxy substance that helps build and maintain your cells, hormones, and some vitamins. But too much cholesterol can be a problem. People with high cholesterol levels are more prone to heart-related issues like heart attack and stroke.

Unfortunately, hypercholesterolemia is a common issue among U.S. adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 12% of people 20 years or older have high cholesterol. Only half of them take medication to control their cholesterol levels.

This article will take a closer look at hypercholesterolemia. It will review causes, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment, and other helpful information.

Hypercholesterolemia vs. hyperlipidemia

You may have heard of the term “hyperlipidemia” in relation to high cholesterol levels. So, what’s the difference between hypercholesterolemia and hyperlipidemia?

Hyperlipidemia (also known as “lipid disorder”) refers to high lipids in your blood. If you have hyperlipidemia, you might have high levels of the following lipids:

Therefore, hypercholesterolemia is a subtype of hyperlipidemia.

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There are two types of hypercholesterolemia. These conditions have different causes.

Familial hypercholesterolemia

Familial, or pure, hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a relatively rare genetic disorder. It affects about 1 in 250 people. This condition is due to mutations in genes responsible for removing LDL cholesterol from the blood.

If you have these mutations, your blood LDL cholesterol can reach dangerously high levels. People with FH can get coronary artery disease (the most common type of heart disease) at a young age.

Acquired hypercholesterolemia

Acquired hypercholesterolemia (AH) is a much more common condition. AH is usually due to an unhealthy diet that contains a lot of sugar, as well as saturated and trans fats, such as:

In most cases, hypercholesterolemia doesn’t cause symptoms. Some people may not even know they have it until they have a heart attack, stroke, or another serious complication. Because of that, it’s essential to check your cholesterol levels regularly.

If you have FH, lack of prompt treatment may cause the following symptoms:

Learn more about the symptoms and complications of high cholesterol.

Your doctor will likely diagnose hypercholesterolemia using a lipid panel. It measures your total cholesterol level, as well as your LDL cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

If your LDL or total cholesterol (LDL plus HDL) levels are too high, your doctor may diagnose you with hypercholesterolemia.

The CDC recommends cholesterol screening once every 5 years for healthy adults. If you have risk factors for hypercholesterolemia, your doctor might recommend getting screened more often.

The first choice of treatment for hypercholesterolemia is usually lifestyle modification. For example, your doctor may recommend that you:

Lifestyle changes are hard, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Your healthcare team will be able to guide and provide you with resources to help you achieve your goals.

In some cases, your doctor might prescribe medications to help lower your cholesterol levels. Statins are the most commonly prescribed medications for hypercholesterolemia. They block your liver from making extra cholesterol.

Read more about lowering your cholesterol with statins, diet, and exercise.

You can’t control genetic factors associated with hypercholesterolemia. But there are certain things you can do to maintain healthy cholesterol levels:

  • include fiber in your diet and limit sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • get regular exercise
  • avoid smoking
  • limit alcohol
  • get regular cholesterol screenings

Hypercholesterolemia is commonly known as high cholesterol. There are two types of hypercholesterolemia: genetic and acquired. The first type is a less common genetic disorder, while the second is a condition that affects many U.S. adults.

Hypercholesterolemia rarely has symptoms, but its complications are very severe. It’s important to get regular preventive screenings, so it doesn’t go unchecked.

Although some medications can help lower your cholesterol, the best way to treat (and prevent) hypercholesterolemia is to maintain a healthy lifestyle.