Cholesterol levels: Signs, symptoms, and complications of high and low cholesterol

Cholesterol levels: Signs, symptoms, and complicationsAlthough we generally see cholesterol as something evil, in reality, it is a necessary one. That’s because it comes in a good form and a bad form. HDL is commonly known as the good cholesterol that keeps us healthy. LDL cholesterol is the bad form that builds up along artery walls, making them stiff and narrow and thus increasing the risk of cardiovascular events.

Cholesterol is naturally occurring in our bodies and can also be ingested through the foods we eat. A proper balance between HDL and LDL cholesterol is essential for good health.


If cholesterol levels are not well managed, complications can arise, particularly, an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. Here we will outline the signs, symptoms, and complication of high and low cholesterol.

Signs, symptoms, and risk factors for high cholesterol

Unfortunately, there aren’t any obvious signs and symptoms indicative of high cholesterol. Similarly to high blood pressure, it can be referred to as the silent killer. For this reason, signs and symptoms pointing to the existing problem of high cholesterol can be as severe as heart attack and stroke, or be less obvious like angina or pain during walking. These symptoms point to an already established problem stemming from high cholesterol.

Risk factors for high cholesterol include having a relative or family member with high cholesterol, having a family member who has experienced a heart attack or stroke, being type 2 diabetic, eating a diet high in animal fats and saturated fat, being physically inactive, having fatty deposits on the eyelids or around the eye, being of older age, being of South Asian descent, having family history of heart disease, being a smoker, and being overweight or obese.

Symptoms and risk factors of low cholesterol

Similar to high cholesterol, symptoms of low cholesterol may not be present until the development of a heart attack or stroke. You may experience severe chest pains if there is a serious blockage in a coronary artery. Chest pains in case of low cholesterol may also signify a buildup of fatty substances in an artery.

Depression and anxiety may be a result of low cholesterol, so you may experience hopelessness, nervousness, confusion, agitation, difficulty making a decision, along with changes in mood, sleep, or eating habits.


Risk factors of low cholesterol include family history, statin medication or other blood pressure treatments, and untreated clinical depression.

Complications of high and low cholesterol levels

As mentioned, if cholesterol levels are not well balanced – meaning, if HDL cholesterol is not higher than LDL level – health complications may arise. Complications related to high and low cholesterol levels include:

  • Chest pains
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Increased risk of suicide and violent behavior
  • Low birth weight and premature delivery
  • Intracerebral hemorrhage

Checking your cholesterol levels regularly, especially if you belong to one of the risk groups, is essential for your health. Your doctor can run blood tests to determine your cholesterol levels. Depending on your readings, you will be instructed on your next course of treatment, such as appropriate lifestyle changes or a statin prescription.

Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.


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