Medical Specialties: Cardiology, Family practice, Preventative medicine

Clinical Definition

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance produced by the liver; it is also an animal sterol found in all foods from animal products. While it is an essential cellular component, cholesterol can cause atherosclerosis (i.e., arterial plaque buildup) when too much exists in the blood stream, leading to heart disease and stroke. 

In Our Own Words

Cholesterol is needed in order to live, but cholesterol imbalance puts you at risk for heart disease, stroke and other diseases. Cholesterol is a waxy type of fat that circulates in your blood, carried by particles called lipoproteins. Too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, can lead to a buildup in the arteries, causing heart disease and stroke.


Not enough high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, can also be a problem. HDL cholesterol is the kind that removes excess cholesterol from the blood, taking it to the liver to be dealt with productively. Heredity, poor diet, being overweight, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle are common causes of imbalance, or “high cholesterol.”


In the absence of certain conditions (e.g., familial hypercholesterolemia), maintaining a proper balance of LDL and HDL can often be achieved by following a diet low in fats and high in fiber, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly.

Relevant Conditions
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Familial hypercholesterolemia
  • Obesity
  • Menopause
  • Stroke
Common Types
  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL)
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL)
  • Total cholesterol
Share this article
  • Harvard Health Publications. “Medical Dictionary of Health Terms.” Accessed August 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. “Cholesterol.” Accessed August 2013.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cholesterol.” Updated July 2012. Accessed August 2013.
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