Hypercholesterolemia, also called high cholesterol, is the presence of high levels of cholesterol in the blood. It is a form of hyperlipidemia, high blood lipids, and hyperlipoproteinemia (elevated levels of lipoproteins in the blood).
Elevated levels of non-HDL cholesterol and LDL in the blood may be a consequence of diet, obesity, inherited (genetic) diseases (such as LDL receptor mutations in familial hypercholesterolemia), or the presence of other diseases such as type 2 diabetes and an underactive thyroid.
Cholesterol is one of three major classes of lipids which all animal cells use to construct their membranes and is thus manufactured by all animal cells. Plant cells do manufacture cholesterol, but in rather small quantities. It is also the precursor of the steroid hormones and bile acids. Since cholesterol is insoluble in water, it is transported in the blood plasma within protein particles (lipoproteins). Lipoproteins are classified by their density: very low density lipoprotein (VLDL), intermediate density lipoprotein (IDL), low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL). All the lipoproteins carry cholesterol, but elevated levels of the lipoproteins other than HDL (termed non-HDL cholesterol), particularly LDL-cholesterol, are associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. In contrast, higher levels of HDL cholesterol are protective.
Avoiding trans fats and replacing saturated fats in adult diets with polyunsaturated fats are recommended dietary measures to reduce total blood cholesterol and LDL in adults. In people with very high cholesterol (e.g., familial hypercholesterolemia), diet is often not sufficient to achieve the desired lowering of LDL, and lipid-lowering medications are usually required. If necessary, other treatments such as LDL apheresis or even surgery (for particularly severe subtypes of familial hypercholesterolemia) are performed. About 34 million adults in the United States have high blood cholesterol.