High cholesterol affects an estimated 100 million Americans, or roughly one-third of the U.S. population, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). But despite its prevalence, most people are so unaware of the condition's risks that they don't even know their own cholesterol levels. Even those being treated for the condition are often unclear on many of the facts surrounding it. How much do you know about cholesterol? Read on to find out.

6 Cholesterol Facts

If you're familiar with the following cholesterol truths, congratulations you know your stuff. If not, check out the following condition facts, and visit our Cholesterol Health Center for more information. In either case, be sure to monitor your levels closely, and work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that's right for you.

  • Not all cholesterol is bad. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains, low-density lipoproteins (LDL or "bad cholesterol") carry cholesterol through the bloodstream, and too many of them can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, heart disease, or atherosclerosis. High-density lipoproteins (HDL or "good cholesterol"), however, are considered beneficial, as they carry cholesterol back to the liver to remove it from the body.
  • High cholesterol has no symptoms. Since the condition shows no noticeable signs, many people are unaware that they have it. According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, all adults ages 20 and older should have their cholesterol checked once every five years, and those with a family history of coronary artery disease (CAD) should be especially careful. The average American's blood cholesterol level is 203 mg/dL; anything over 240 mg/dL is considered high.
  • "Cholesterol-free" labels may be misleading. Many foods labeled "cholesterol free," "no cholesterol," or "low cholesterol" may still contain large amounts of trans or saturated fat. A bag of potato chips that reads "cholesterol free," for example, may be 40 percent fat; the chips have simply been fried in a vegetable oil with no cholesterol. Be sure to check the amount of fats, cholesterol, sugar, and calories on the label to determine whether foods are healthy.
  • There are many ways to manage high-risk cholesterol. Contrary to popular belief, medication isn't the only way to reduce high-risk cholesterol. As the National Institutes of Health explains, following the low saturated fat, low-cholesterol TLC diet, becoming more physically active, and losing weight if needed may go a long way toward improving your levels. If diet and exercise don't lower your cholesterol enough, your doctor may prescribe medications, such as statins, bile acid sequestrants, nicotinic acid, or fibrates.
  • High-risk cholesterol can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. A recent study, conducted by Canada's Vancouver Child and Family Research Institute at the University of British Columbia, found a link between an accumulation of cholesterol and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. According to another important study, called the Strong Heart Study, non-HDL cholesterol (total cholesterol minus HDL) can actually predict heart disease in individuals with type 2 diabetes.
  • High cholesterol can affect anyone, even thin people, women, and young children. As the AHA explains, high cholesterol can affect anyone. Although overweight people are more likely to be affected, thin people should also get their levels checked regularly. Women should be just as diligent about monitoring their cholesterol as men, especially post-menopausal women. And even children, especially those whose families have a history of heart disease, can have high cholesterol levels, which may put them at greater risk for developing heart disease as adults.