Normally, LDLs transport cholesterol from your liver and deliver it to the tissues that need it. But if you have a lot of bad cholesterol left over after all of your tissues have been taken care of, the LDLs will "let go" of the extra cholesterol while traveling through your blood. This bad cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries (blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body). This buildup of cholesterol is called plaque. Over time, plaque can cause narrowing of the arteries. This is called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
Bad cholesterol is the main source of damaging buildup and blockage in the arteries. The more of it you have in your blood, the greater your risk of heart disease. But how much is too much?
Your "healthy" LDL number will depend on how many other heart disease risk factors you have. If you have heart disease or are at high risk for developing it, your ideal LDL cholesterol level may be below 100 mg/dL. If you have no risk factors for heart disease, your ideal LDL level may be below 160 mg/dL.
(Click High Cholesterol Risk to learn what your LDL level should be based on your risk factors for a heart attack.)
In general, the higher your bad cholesterol level and the more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of developing heart disease or other effects of high cholesterol. Treatment for high cholesterol (also known as hypercholesterolemia or hyperlipidemia) focuses on lowering your bad cholesterol level enough to reduce your chances of developing these conditions. There are two main ways to lower your LDL cholesterol:
- Lifestyle changes
- Cholesterol medications.
(Click Lowering Cholesterol for more information on ways to lower bad cholesterol.)