High vs low cholesterol: Symptoms to know

01/6​Cholesterol 101: What is cholesterol?​

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that circulates in the blood. Unlike popular belief, it’s not inherently “bad.” Your body needs cholesterol to build cells as well as make vitamins and other hormones.

There are two main types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is considered good cholesterol as it prevents the buildup of plaque, protects arteries, and protects you from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. LDL is considered bad cholesterol, as it carries cholesterol to your arteries, where it may collect in the blood vessel walls and lead to plaque formation.


02/6​What happens if I have high cholesterol?​

According to Penn Medicine, a person is considered at high risk for developing heart disease if their total cholesterol level is higher than 240 mg/dL, LDL levels are higher than 160 mg/dL, and if the HDL level is below 40 mg/dL.

With high cholesterol, you can develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits grow and can make it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries. Sometimes, those deposits can break and form a clot that causes a heart attack or stroke. High cholesterol can be inherited, but it’s often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as poor diet and lack of exercise.


03/6​Symptoms of high cholesterol​

Unfortunately, high cholesterol has no clear warning symptoms. A blood test is the only way to properly detect if you have it. However, high cholesterol can lead to certain conditions like peripheral artery disease (PAD) that can occur when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. Symptoms of PAD include cramping, achiness, fatigue, pain in your legs during activity or exercise, and discomfort in your legs and feet.


04/6​Can someone have low cholesterol too?​

According to health portals, less than 120 mg/dL total cholesterol or an LDL level less than 50 mg/dL is very low. You could have very low cholesterol because of a rare disorder that runs in your family, malnutrition, malabsorption, anemia, thyroid issues, liver disease, severe illness or cancer.


05/6​Symptoms of low cholesterol​

06/6​When to see a doctor​

If you experience any of the above symptoms associated with high or low cholesterol, it is important to see your doctor. Getting regular blood tests done can also help to determine if your cholesterol is under control or not.


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