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Cholesterol (koh-LESS-tur-ol) 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. Triglycerides (treye-GLIH-suh-ryds) are another kind of blood fat that travels with cholesterol. Too high levels also can raise heart disease risk.
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. A triglyceride level greater than 150mg/dL is considered high.
High cholesterol is a problem for many U.S. women. Among Asian-American women, cholesterol rates are highest in Japanese women. Some Asian-Americans, including Asian-Indian women, also have a tendency toward high triglyceride levels and lower levels of "good" cholesterol. Yet, Asian-American women have low cholesterol screening rates.
You can take steps to lower cholesterol:
Content last updated: May 18, 2010.