Hypercholesterolemia occurs when you have high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Another name for this condition is dyslipidemia.

If you’ve been diagnosed with hypercholesterolemia, a doctor or healthcare professional will likely recommend lifestyle changes and possibly medications to lower your cholesterol. Making these changes can help lower your risks of health conditions related to hypercholesterolemia such as coronary heart disease or peripheral artery disease.

Lifestyle factors are the most common cause of hypercholesterolemia. However, there are other hypercholesterolemia causes, usually because of genetic changes that can cause your body to develop high cholesterol levels. An example is familial hypercholesterolemia (FH).

FH can cause severely high cholesterol levels, often at a much younger age than what is typical. Doctors will treat most people with FH with the same cholesterol-lowering medications as those with lifestyle-related hypercholesterolemia.

However, if you have severely high cholesterol levels because of a genetic condition (sometimes even greater than 500 milligrams per deciliter), a doctor may recommend a treatment called lipoprotein apheresis. This treatment involves starting an IV and connecting it to a machine that cleanses your blood of excess cholesterol.

What is the most common cause of hypercholesterolemia?

A sedentary lifestyle and a diet high in fat and cholesterol are the most common causes of hypercholesterolemia. These factors can result in a buildup of excess cholesterol in the body that begins to deposit in the blood vessels, leading to inflammation and the development of “plaque.”

Click here to learn more about the early signs and symptoms of hypercholesterolemia.

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Hypercholesterolemia treatments typically involve a combination of lifestyle changes and medications to lower cholesterol. Your healthcare professional’s recommendations will probably depend upon how high your cholesterol levels are and if you have other risk factors for heart disease such as obesity or diabetes.

If you’re at high risk, a doctor will likely recommend taking medications to lower your cholesterol.

It’s important to keep in mind that these are just general guidelines. A doctor will always have the most reasoned information on your condition and the best way to treat it.

Lifestyle changes, such as exercise and quitting smoking, can help lower high cholesterol levels. So can making dietary changes. These lifestyle changes can be especially important in treating high cholesterol in children.

Choosing fresh foods in favor of preprepared foods can help lower your LDL cholesterol levels.

Diet approaches to try include:

Diet approaches to avoid include:

If you have hypercholesterolemia, aim to keep your dietary cholesterol intake to fewer than 200 mg per day. The average daily cholesterol intake for adults is 293 mg per day.

Dietary and physical activity programs aren’t always enough to significantly lower hypercholesterolemia. When this is the case, a doctor may prescribe medications to treat cholesterol levels.

A drug class called statins can lower LDL cholesterol anywhere from 22 to 50%. Examples of these drugs include atorvastatin and simvastatin. These medications aren’t without their side effects, however, which include muscle pain and weakness.

If you can’t take statins or you don’t respond to them, a doctor may prescribe other treatments. Examples of second-line treatments include:

Those with FH may also take medications called PCSK9 inhibitors. Also known as monoclonal antibodies, these medications can lower cholesterol by 60% in those taking statins. However, these medications are only approved for established cardiovascular disease or FH, which is why doctors don’t prescribe them to all people with high cholesterol.

Many medications commonly used to treat high cholesterol aren’t safe for use in pregnancy. The medications that have potentially harmful effects on a baby include:

  • statins
  • cholesterol absorption inhibitors
  • niacin
  • fibrates

You can, however, take bile acid sequestrants to lower cholesterol when you’re pregnant. These medications keep your stomach from absorbing the bile acid that your liver needs to make cholesterol. Because they block a body process and aren’t absorbed into the bloodstream, bile acid sequestrants are safe for pregnancy.

If you’re expecting and have high cholesterol or your cholesterol increases while pregnant, talk with a doctor about safe treatment approaches.

Whether or not hypercholesterolemia is curable depends on why you have the condition in the first place. Genetic conditions that result in hypercholesterolemia are generally treatable but not curable.

If your hypercholesterolemia is lifestyle-related, it’s possible that the lifestyle changes you continue to implement could “cure” your high cholesterol. However, some people require medication therapies that will continue to treat high cholesterol.

Living with high cholesterol

If you have a genetic condition that causes hypercholesterolemia, there are support groups available. The Family Heart Foundation offers support groups for those with FH and their families.

Regardless of the source of your hypercholesterolemia, resources such as the American Heart Association and the National Lipid Association can help.

You can also ask a doctor if there are support groups or resources specific to your area that can help you live a healthier lifestyle with high cholesterol.

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Hypercholesterolemia treatments primarily include lifestyle changes and medications. Each of these treatments helps to improve your heart health and lowers the risks of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.

Ask a doctor how often you should have your cholesterol checked and how you can treat high cholesterol if you have it. Make sure to let a doctor know if you have any family history of hypercholesterolemia or high cholesterol.