Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is found in our blood. Reducing your cholesterol level can reduce your risk of stroke.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance and is vital for your body to function properly. Most of the cholesterol in our body is made by the liver, but it can also be absorbed from some of the foods we eat.

Cholesterol is carried in your blood by proteins and when they combine they form lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoprotein:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) carries cholesterol from your liver to the cells that need it. It is often called ‘bad cholesterol’ because if there is too much, it can build up in your artery walls.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as ‘good cholesterol’ because it carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to your liver, where it is either broken down or passed out of the body.

If you have very high levels of cholesterol in your blood (known as hyperlipidemia) it can have an effect on your health.

Why does high cholesterol increase your risk of stroke?

It is the overall balance of good and bad cholesterol in the body that affects your risk of having a stroke. Too much bad cholesterol in your blood can cause fatty deposits to build up in your arteries and restrict the flow of blood. It also increases the chance of a blood clot developing.

How do I know if I have it?

High cholesterol has no noticeable symptoms, so you need to have your cholesterol level checked, especially if you are over 40 and have any of the other main risk factors for the condition:

  • a history of heart disease or high cholesterol in your family
  • you are overweight
  • you have high blood pressure or diabetes.

Your GP or pharmacist can check your cholesterol level with a simple blood test. 

What can I do about high cholesterol?

You can lower your cholesterol by making sure your diet is healthy and low in saturated fats. If your doctor thinks that you are at a high risk of developing heart disease or stroke he or she may suggest that you take medication to help reduce your cholesterol as well. Drugs called statins can help to prevent fatty deposits forming and reduce your risk of stroke.

Find out more

There’s more about cholesterol and how to reduce the amount of cholesterol in your diet in our Healthy eating and stroke leaflet.