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.”
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
Choosing fresh foods in favor of preprepared foods can help lower your LDL cholesterol levels.
Diet approaches to try include:
- eating a diet high in fiber, including whole grain foods, fruits, and vegetables
- choosing fatty fish such as salmon, cod, or canned light tuna, which contain “healthy” fats that offer heart-boosting benefits
- selecting leaner cuts of beef and pork, which are usually labeled as loin, sirloin, or round
- selecting lean cuts of meat such as skinless, white-meat chicken or turkey
- choosing reduced-fat or fat-free dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and ice cream
Diet approaches to avoid include:
- eating high-fat cuts of meat such as T-bone, porterhouse, New York strip, or rib-eye steaks
- eating foods that are prepackaged because these often contain saturated and trans fats to enhance how long they can stay on a shelf before expiring
- eating foods that have trans fats by referencing food labels, which should show if the food has trans fats present
A drug class called statins can lower LDL cholesterol anywhere from
If you can’t take statins or you don’t respond to them, a doctor may prescribe other treatments. Examples of
Those with FH may also take medications called PCSK9 inhibitors. Also known as monoclonal antibodies, these medications can
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:
- cholesterol absorption inhibitors
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.
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.
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.