The cholesterol belongs to the family of lipids, or fat, is one of the components of the cell membrane and is found in the blood and all tissues. Although it is essential for building healthy cells in physiological quantities, when circulating levels are high, it is one of the main risk factors for heart disease. In fact, excess cholesterol can lead to the formation of fatty deposits in the blood vessels, also known as atherosclerotic plaques. These, in turn, contribute to the narrowing of the lumen and cause heart attacks and strokes due to an obstruction to the passage of blood. "High cholesterol" or "hypercholesterolemia" is defined as a total blood cholesterol level above 240 mg / dL.

Cholesterol is a type of fat present in the blood. Mostly it is produced by the human body, while a small part is introduced by the diet. Although cholesterol is physiologically involved in several basic processes of human body function, excessive cholesterol is one of the main risk factors for heart disease. In fact, excess cholesterol tends to deposit on the arterial walls, causing the formation of lesions that thicken and harden. Over time, this process called atherosclerosis can lead to the formation of a real plaque that impairs the passage of blood or completely impedes blood flow, and therefore puts the cardiovascular system at risk.

Cholesterol: chemical formula
Chemical formula of cholesterol

The cholesterol present in the blood is transported to molecular structures called lipoproteins. At least two main types of lipoproteins can be identified: low-density lipoproteins or LDL (low density lipoprotein), also called "bad" cholesterol because they carry excess cholesterol from the liver to the arteries;
high density lipoprotein or HDL (high density lipoprotein) also called "good" cholesterol because they help remove cholesterol from the blood and remove cholesterol through bile salts, effectively protecting the heart and blood vessels. Total blood cholesterol measured is approximately the sum of LDL + HDL.

Causes of high cholesterol

What are the causes of high cholesterol? Several conditions are associated with the development of high or cholesterol hypercholesterolemia. These include obesity or overweight, a incorrect diet, the smoke - which in the long run damages blood vessels and accelerates hardening of the arteries - and one lack of physical activity. Some metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, are often linked to hypercholesterolemia. Some people are genetically prone to developing hypercholesterolemia: this is a condition known as 'hereditary or familial hypercholesterolemia', which is related to a number of genetic mutations.

What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?

The presence of high cholesterol in the blood does not cause symptoms, except when the damage related to hypercholesterolemia is already advanced: blood control is the only way to detect this anomaly.


High cholesterol can only be detected by blood testing. This will allow you to measure your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels. Values are expressed in milligrams per deciliter (mg / dL) and have been associated with varying degrees of cardiovascular risk. Although low total and LDL cholesterol levels are desirable, high HDL cholesterol levels are desirable.


The main strategy for keeping cholesterol levels within the recommended levels is prevention! If the use of drug treatments is necessary, several options are available:

  • statins - block the production of LDL cholesterol and increase the liver's ability to eliminate that already circulating in the blood;
  • Bile sequestrants: they bind to bile salts which usually contain a good amount of cholesterol to be eliminated and prevent re-absorption in the intestine. In this way greater quantities of LDL cholesterol are eliminated with the faeces, with a reduction in circulating levels;
  • Niacin (or nicotinic acid): lowers total and LDL cholesterol levels in favor of the HDL ratio.


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