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High cholesterol: risk factors

The risk factors for high cholesterol are:

  • Diet - a high intake of saturated fats or trans fats is likely to raise cholesterol levels in the blood (cholesterol itself in the diet has very little effect).
  • Genetics and metabolism - have an influence. Some inherited conditions give very high cholesterol levels eg Familial Hypercholesterolaemia, a form of inherited high cholesterol which affects over 10,000 people in Scotland and which can cause heart attacks or strokes at a young age, even in the 20s and 30s.
  • Other conditions can increase the likelihood of raised cholesterol eg those with diabetes and high blood pressure often have high cholesterol, and liver disease, kidney disease and an underactive thyroid can also lead to raised cholesterol
  • Lack of exercise - can increase cholesterol levels. Physical activity tends to increase the level of high density lipoprotein (HDL) ('good' cholesterol).
  • Weight – being overweight can raise the level of low density lipoprotein (LDL) ('bad' cholesterol), lower HDL, and raise total cholesterol levels
  • Getting older - leads to a gradual increase in cholesterol level.
  • Drinking alcohol to excess - the metabolism of alcohol feeds into pathways of fat metabolism.
  • Ethnic group - People who are of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan descent have an increased risk of high blood cholesterol

Page last updated: 21 December 2016

© Scottish Public Health Observatory 2014