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Because cholesterol tends to rise as people get older, everyone's risk for high cholesterol increases with age. Women's LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels rise more quickly than do men's. Until around age 55, women tend to have lower LDL levels than men do.1 At any age, men tend to have lower HDL ("good" cholesterol) levels than women do.


Having diabetes can also make you more likely to develop high cholesterol.2 Diabetes affects the body's use of a hormone called insulin. This hormone tells the body to remove sugar from the blood. With diabetes, the body either doesn't make enough insulin, can't use its own insulin as well as it should, or both. This causes sugars to build up in the blood.

At a Glance: Key Definitions

  • Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in the body. High levels in the blood can lead to heart disease and stroke.
  • LDL ("bad") cholesterol makes up the majority of the cholesterol in the body. Too much LDL can lead to heart disease.
  • HDL ("good") cholesterol reduces the risk for heart disease. Scientists think that HDL mops up bad cholesterol and carries it to the liver, which then flushes it from the body.


  1. CDC. Health, United States, 2008. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2008.
  2. National Cholesterol Education Program. Third Report of the Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). [PDF-1MB] NIH Pub. No. 93-3095. Bethesda, MD: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. 1993.

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