Cholesterol is a waxy, fatlike substance found in all parts of the body. It comes from two sources: your body and the food you eat. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. Eating too much cholesterol, which comes from animal foods like meats, whole milk dairy products, and egg yolks, can make your cholesterol go up. Being overweight and lack of physical activity also can make cholesterol go up. Too much cholesterol in the blood blocks it from flowing easily through your body. The higher your cholesterol, the more likely you are to get heart disease.
High cholesterol has no symptoms. Everyone 20 and older should have their cholesterol levels checked at least once every five years. Ask your doctor how often you should have your cholesterol levels checked.
Women need to know their cholesterol levels and what they mean. Your total cholesterol level actually comes from two different types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is "good." It helps protect your heart. So, you want to keep it high — above 40 md/dL. But LDL cholesterol is really bad for your heart. So, you want to keep it low — below 130 mg/dL. You have borderline high cholesterol if the total is 200–239 md/dL. You have dangerously high cholesterol if the total is 240 md/dL or more.
Many American Indian and Alaska Native women have total cholesterol levels that are high. If you find out your levels are high, take these steps:
Keep a healthy weight.
Eat healthy. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit fats, especially saturated fats and trans fats. Eat chicken, turkey, and lean meats. Avoid organ meats, egg yolks, whole milk dairy products, fats like butter or lard, and packaged or processed foods. Limit sodium (salt).
Make physical activity a habit. Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or
1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or
A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity and
Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days of the week
If needed, take medicines to lower cholesterol as prescribed by your doctor.
Don't smoke. If you smoke, try to quit. For help along the way, check out our Quitting Smoking section.
For Your Heart - This portion of the womenshealth.gov website escorts you through a short, confidential survey of questions about your health and lifestyle. Based on your answers, it provides you with a series of articles detailing the latest information on exercise, nutrition, smoking, diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other factors that affect you and your risk for heart disease — all tailored to your needs.
Explore other publications and websites
High Blood Cholesterol - This website describes the basic facts about high blood cholesterol, including what it is, what causes it, the symptoms, and the treatments.
High Blood Cholesterol — What You Need to Know - This publication is based on clinical guidelines for cholesterol testing and management. It will help you find out what your cholesterol numbers mean and what treatment your doctor may prescribe to help lower your cholesterol level. The brochure also includes a tool to estimate the risk of having a heart attack and outlines ways to reduce risk.
Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC - TLC (therapeutic lifestyle changes) is a set of tools you can use to lower your cholesterol. This easy-to-read booklet is designed to help you make the lifestyle changes that will lower blood cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease. It explains how to follow the TLC diet (low in saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol), increase physical activity, and manage weight for people whose cholesterol level is above their goal. The guide includes helpful lists and charts, sample menus, a 10-year coronary heart disease risk calculator, and many tips for success.