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Family History and Other Characteristics That Increase Risk for High Cholesterol

A large family seated on the steps of their home.

High cholesterol can run in families. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, you are more likely to have high cholesterol.

Family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles, and environments that can influence their health and their risk for disease. High cholesterol can run in a family, and your risk for high cholesterol can increase based on your age and your race or ethnicity.

Genetics and Family History

When members of a family pass traits from one generation to another through genes, that process is called heredity.

Genetic factors likely play some role in high cholesterol, heart disease, and other related conditions. However, it is also likely that people with a family history of high cholesterol share common environments and other potential factors that increase their risk.

If you have a family history of high cholesterol, you are more likely to have high cholesterol. You may need to get your cholesterol levels checked more often than people who do not have a family history of high cholesterol.

The risk for high cholesterol can increase even more when heredity combines with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as eating an unhealthy diet.

Some people have an inherited genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia. This condition causes very high “bad” cholesterol levels beginning at a young age.

Find out more about genetics and disease on CDC’s Office of Public Health Genomics website.

Family health history is a record of the diseases and health conditions present in your family. Family health history is a useful tool for understanding health risks and preventing disease. To help people collect and organize their family history information, CDC’s Office of Public Health Genomics collaborated with the U.S. Surgeon General and other federal agencies to develop a Web-based tool called “My Family Health Portrait.”

Other Characteristics

Both men and women can have high cholesterol. Some other characteristics that you cannot control, like your age and race or ethnicity, can affect your risk for high cholesterol.

  • Age. Because your cholesterol tends to rise as you get older, your risk for high cholesterol increases with age.
  • Sex. Levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, rise more quickly for women than for men. However, until around age 55, women tend to have lower LDL levels than men do.1 At any age, men tend to have lower high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol, than women do.
  • Race or ethnicity. Cholesterol levels vary by race, ethnicity, and sex. The chart below shows the percentages of people with high LDL cholesterol (130 mg/dL or more) in the United States.2 What are the ideal levels of cholesterol?
Racial or Ethnic GroupMen (%)Women (%)
Non-Hispanic blacks30.733.6
Mexican Americans38.831.8
Non-Hispanic whites29.432.0
All31.032.0

References

  1. CDC. Health, United States, 2012. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2013.
  2. Mozaffarian D, Benjamin EJ, Go AS, Arnett DK, Blaha MJ, Cushman M, et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2015 Update: A Report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2014 Dec 17 [Epub ahead of print].
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