What is high cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a natural, waxy, fatty substance that is found in your body. Some cholesterol is essential for daily function. However, too much cholesterol forms plaque that attaches to the walls of your arteries. A buildup of plaque causes problems by blocking or narrowing your arteries.

When your cholesterol is too high, other serious health conditions can occur, including heart disease and heart attacks.


Your chances for developing high cholesterol increase if you are overweight, if your diet is high in fatty foods or if your family members have high cholesterol. As a person ages, it is common for cholesterol levels to increase. A lack of physical activity can also cause higher cholesterol levels.


Typically, high cholesterol is not associated with any signs or symptoms.                                                                                                                    

Why choose Ohio State?

At Ohio State’s Cardiovascular Risk Reduction and Lipid Clinic, we design individualized care plans to help you meet your cholesterol and lipid management goals. Our clinic is staffed by cardiologists who are experts in the management of cholesterol problems. Treatment plans may include a combination of lifestyle modification coaching and management of medications. The clinic specializes in:

  • Exploring barriers to changes in behavior
  • Motivational interviewing to assist you in finding solutions
  • Cardiovascular event risk reduction
  • Helping you with medication intolerance
  • Screening and management of medication intolerances that may worsen conditions
  • Screening for potential drug interactions

For more information, contact Ohio State’s Cardiovascular Risk Reduction and Lipid Clinic.

Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly are some important and effective ways to lower your cholesterol. Ohio State offers tools that can help you manage your cholesterol levels.

The Fitness Center at Ohio State’s Center for Wellness and Prevention, which is located on The Ohio State University’s campus, provides a friendly and comfortable environment for exercise. Our professional staff is trained in CPR, and an automated external defibrillator (AED) is on-site. Someone is always available to answer questions or provide guidance and encouragement while exercising. Members have access to aerobic and strength training equipment as well as instructor-led fitness classes. Contact us for more information about Ohio State’s Center for Wellness and Prevention.


Blood tests are used to diagnose high cholesterol. There are two different kinds of cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL cholesterol removes “bad” cholesterol from the bloodstream. LDL is considered “bad” cholesterol, and it is the main contributor to plaque buildup.

Your doctor will use the blood test to look at your total and HDL cholesterol levels. Total cholesterol measures both the HDL and LDL cholesterol levels in your blood.

If your total cholesterol levels are high or your HDL cholesterol levels are too low, then blood tests, known as lipoprotein panels, are used to measure your LDL cholesterol levels. These blood tests require fasting for nine to 12 hours prior to testing.

Total Cholesterol Levels:

  • Less than 200 mg/dL is considered normal and healthy
  • 200 – 239 mg/dL is borderline high
  • 240 mg/dL or more is considered high

HDL Cholesterol Levels:

  • 60 mg/dL or more is desirable
  • Less than 40 mg/dL is too low and is a risk factor for heart disease

LDL Cholesterol Levels:

  • Less than 100 mg/dL is optimal
  • 100 – 129 mg/dL is considered near optimal
  • 130 – 159 mg/dL is borderline high
  • 160 mg/dL or more is considered high


High cholesterol is treated with a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. Medicines are an ongoing treatment and will need to be taken continuously in order to maintain safe and healthy cholesterol levels.

Additionally, certain lifestyle changes help lower your cholesterol:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly
    • Exercise helps to raise the good kind of cholesterol (HDL) and lower the bad kind (LDL)
  • Eating healthy
    • Limit the amount of fat that you eat, especially saturated fat, as this contributes to high cholesterol
    • Eat more fruits and vegetables
    • Have no more than 200 mg of cholesterol per day
    • Eat foods that are high in soluble fiber. They help stop the digestive tract from absorbing cholesterol. Legumes, whole grains and certain fruits are all high in soluble fiber
    • Reduce your salt and alcohol intake

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