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What is High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol has a bad reputation. Many people fear cholesterol, watch cholesterol, worry about cholesterol. However, the reality is that cholesterol is crucial for life: it is a building block for many normal hormones, and a major part of the membrane that surrounds each and every cell in our bodies.

The problem with cholesterol is that it is also the major component of plaque, the fatty material that builds up in arteries as part of atherosclerosis, which in turn can lead to serious problems such as heart attack or stroke.

So how do you tell whether you have a cholesterol problem? Your blood level of cholesterol, and of the different subtypes of cholesterol, is the key. One of the subtypes of cholesterol is called LDL (low-density lipoprotein)-cholesterol, the so-called "bad" cholesterol. High levels of LDL-cholesterol are strongly linked to an increased risk of health problems such as heart attack. Another subtype is called HDL (high-density lipoprotein)-cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol. High levels of HDL-cholesterol reduce the risk of heart problems, while a low HDL-cholesterol level increases that risk.