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Heart Health

Keep Your Heart Healthy by Controlling Your Cholesterol.

When it comes to keeping your heart healthy, controlling your cholesterol can help you reach that goal.  As one of Life’s Simple 7, “Getting your cholesterol low can help your blood go with the flow.” 

Follow these steps to get started on the pathway to lower cholesterol and better heart health.

Learn Why It Is Important.

Take Action to Be Healthy.

Know Your Numbers.

Talk with Your Doctor.

Know Your Family Heart History.


Learn Why It Is Important.

Cholesterol is a fat-like material in your blood.  Your body makes its own cholesterol.  When you eat foods that have lots of fat or cholesterol, you can have too much cholesterol in your blood.

Cholesterol can build up on the inside of the blood vessels of your heart.  If too much cholesterol builds up, then the blood cannot flow through to your heart.  This can cause a heart attack.

Having a high cholesterol level is a well-recognized risk factor for:

High cholesterol usually has no signs or symptoms, so you could have high levels and not know it.  Only a doctor’s check will reveal it. 

People with diabetes tend to have more abnormal cholesterol levels. These differences can increase your risk for heart disease. By managing your cholesterol, especially by lowering your LDL - or "bad" - cholesterol, you can reduce your chance of developing heart  disease and early death.

In fact, people with diabetes who lower their LDL cholesterol can reduce their risk by up to 42 percent!


Take Action to Be Healthy.

Things that can raise your cholesterol level include being:

But there are things that you can do to lower your cholesterol.


Keep a Healthy Weight.

Being overweight or obese can raise your bad cholesterol levels.  Losing weight can help lower your cholesterol.  To decide whether your weight is in a healthy range, you can calculate a number called the body mass index – or “BMI”.  Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to measure a person's excess body fat.

If you know your weight and height, you can compute your BMI at CDC's Assessing Your Weight Web site.

If you are overweight, try to lose weight.  Even a small amount of weight loss can help lower your bad cholesterol, and you will also help your health in other ways.

Try to lose weight by cutting back on the amount that you eat and exercising regularly. 


Eat a Healthy Diet.

A healthy diet can help keep blood cholesterol levels down.  Avoid saturated fat, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol, which tend to raise cholesterol levels.  Other types of fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can actually lower blood cholesterol levels.  Eating fiber can also help lower cholesterol.

For some people, eating too many carbohydrates can lower HDL – or “good cholesterol” - and raise triglycerides.  Drinking alcohol can also raise triglycerides.  

To lower your cholesterol, try the following:

For more information on healthy diet and nutrition, see CDC's Nutrition and Physical Activity and Obesity Program web site and MedlinePlus' Dietary Fats Explained.


Exercise Regularly.

Physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol.  The Surgeon General recommends adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for 2 hours and 30 minutes every week.  That is at least 30 minutes most days.

When you exercise, you increase your body’s ability to make HDL – the “good” cholesterol.  HDL helps to remove LDL – the “bad” cholesterol – from your body.

For help getting started, please visit Prevent Heart Disease by Being Active.   


Know Your Numbers.

Your doctor can do a simple blood test to check your cholesterol levels.  The test is called a lipoprotein profile.  It measures several kinds of cholesterol as well as triglycerides. 

These levels are considered healthy for most people:

Desirable Cholesterol Levels

Total cholesterol


Less than 200 mg/dL


LDL – or "bad" cholesterol


Less than 100 mg/dL*


HDL – or "good" cholesterol


40 mg/dL or higher




Less than 150 mg/dL









Talk With Your Doctor.

To see how likely you are to develop heart disease, your doctor will look at information about you, including test results such as your:

Looking at all this information together makes it easier to understand and manage your risk for heart disease, including whether medications such as statins might help.

Ask your doctor if you need to take medicine to help lower your cholesterol.  If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medications in addition to lifestyle changes.  Lifestyle changes are just as important as taking medicines.

Several types of medications help lower cholesterol:

Type of Medicine

How They Work

Statin drugs

Statin drugs lower LDL cholesterol by slowing down the liver's production of cholesterol.  They also increase the liver's ability to remove LDL cholesterol already in the blood.

For more information, see:

FDA’s advice on statin risks

FDA Expands Advice on Statin Risks

Bile acid sequestrants

Bile acid sequestrants help remove cholesterol from the blood stream by getting rid of bile acids.  The body needs bile acids and makes them by breaking down LDL cholesterol.


Niacin, or nicotinic acid

Niacin is a B vitamin that can improve all lipoprotein levels.  Nicotinic acid raises HDL cholesterol levels while lowering total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.  Treatment requires high levels of niacin with possible side effects and so requires medical supervision.



Fibrates mainly lower triglycerides and, to a lesser extent, increase HDL levels.


All drugs may have side effects, so talk with your doctor on a regular basis.  Once your cholesterol levels have improved, your doctor will want to monitor them.


Know Your Family Heart History.

Knowledge is one of your strongest weapons against heart disease.  Learn as much as you can about healthy living to keep your heart strong.

And because diseases of the heart and blood vessels can run in families, knowing your family history can provide important information about your health risks.  By talking to your doctor about your family heart health history, together you can look for ways to lower your risk of heart disease.  To learn how to create a heart health family tree, please visit Know Your Family Heart Health History.  

You can also find a list of questions to ask your doctor at MedlinePlus' Cholesterol – What to Ask Your Doctor.


Points to Remember:


Hope Through Research - You Can Be Part of the Answer!

Many research studies are underway to help us learn about heart disease. Would you like to find out more about being part of this exciting research? Please visit the following links:



Cholesterol – What You Can Do (CDC) 

Cholesterol (FDA) 

Control Cholesterol (American Heart Association) -video

Intensive Lowering of Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels for Primary Prevention of Coronary Artery Disease What You Can Do. (Mayo Clinic Proceedings)

For more information:

Go to the Heart Health health topic, where you can:

Last Reviewed: Apr 24, 2014