What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood. You need some cholesterol to be healthy, but too much can build up in your arteries and may cause a heart attack or stroke.

Cholesterol is measure with a blood test. Your nurse or doctor can order this test for you.

Total cholesterol is the amount of cholesterol in your blood. It is made up of:

  • LDL, the bad cholesterol
  • HDL, the "good" cholesterol
  • Triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood


Make sure you discuss all of your risk factors with your nurse or doctor to agree on a healthy lifestyle plan this is right for you.

Risk factors you can’t change:
  • Family history of early heart disease
  • Age (men 45 years or older, women 55 years or older)
  • African-American race

Risk factors you can change:
  • Smoking cigarettes or cigars
  • High blood pressure, or taking medicine for high blood pressue
  • Diabetes or high blood sugar
  • High LDL cholesterol
  • Low HDL cholesterol

A healthy diet, not smoking, regular exercise and getting closer to a healthy weight (and staying there)_ are good for everybody—no matter what your risk is of having a heart attack or stroke.

You have the power to make changes to improve your health.


Cholesterol-lowering medicine may be right for you if:

  • You have had a heart attack, stroke, angioplasty or stent, or heart bypass surgery due to blockages in your arteries
  • Your LDL bad cholesterol is 190 or higher
  • You have type 2 diabetes and are between 40 and 75 years old
  • You are between 40 and years old and your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years is above a certain level
In some cases, medicine may be right for you even if you are not in one of the groups above. Talk with your nurse or doctor. 


Disclaimer: This and other PCNA educational materials are for information purposes only and are not intended to replace medical advice or diagnose or treat health problems. Health-related decisions should be made in partnership with a healthcare provider. It is the reader's responsibility to seek out the most current, accurate information.