Smoking does not cause higher cholesterol levels, but it can reduce your HDL ("good") cholesterol.
Signs and tests
A cholesterol test is done to diagnose a lipid disorder. Some guidelines recommend having your first screening cholesterol test at age 20. Everyone should have their first screening test by age 35 in men, and age 45 in women.
It is important to work with your health care provider to set your cholesterol goals. General targets are:
LDL: 70-130 mg/dL (lower numbers are better)
HDL: more than 40-60 mg/dL (high numbers are better)
Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL (lower numbers are better)
Triglycerides: 10-150 mg/dL (lower numbers are better)
If your cholesterol results are abnormal, your doctor may also do:
Whether or not you have heart disease, diabetes, or other blood flow problems
Whether you smoke or are overweight
Whether you have high blood pressure or diabetes
You are more likely to need medicine to lower your cholesterol:
If you have heart disease or diabetes, your LDL cholesterol should stay below 100
If you are at risk for heart disease (even if you do not yet have any heart problems), your LDL cholesterol should be below 130
Almost everyone else may get health benefits from LDL cholesterol that is lower than 160 to 190
There are several types of drugs to help lower blood cholesterol levels, and they work in different ways. Statins are one kind of drug that lower cholesterol.
High cholesterol levels can lead to hardening of the arteries, also called atherosclerosis. This occurs when fat, cholesterol, and other substances build up in the walls of arteries and form hard structures called plaques.
Over time, these plaques can block the arteries and cause heart disease, stroke, and other symptoms or problems throughout the body.
Disorders that are passed down through families often lead to higher cholesterol levels that are harder to control.
Daniels SR, Greer FR; Committee on Nutrition. Lipid screening and cardiovascular health in childhood. Pediatrics. 2008;122198-208.
Genest J, Libby P. Lipoprotein disorders and cardiovascular disease. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 47.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for lipid disorders in adults: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ);2008 Jun.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for lipid disorders in children. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ);2007 Jul.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.