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LDL Cholesterol Levels: Symptoms and Causes

LDL Cholesterol: 122mg/dL

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on May 31, 2023
6 min

Keeping an eye on your LDL level is important to mitigate future health issues. You need to understand what your LDL cholesterol level means and how it can impact your health. We explain what 122mg/dL means and how to obtain optimal LDL cholesterol levels.

What Does an LDL 122mg/dL Mean?

An LDL cholesterol reading of 122mg/dL is considered elevated. It means that your LDL cholesterol levels1 are higher than the optimal range. Elevated LDL cholesterol levels can build up on the walls of your blood vessels, increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke.

It is important to keep your LDL levels in the healthy range to prevent or reduce future health issues. Various lifestyle changes can help bring your cholesterol level down. You need to act appropriately to ensure your elevated cholesterol levels do not progress to high cholesterol levels.

LDL cholesterol levelsmg/dL
Elevated ❌101–159
High ❌160<

How Often Is It Recommended to Measure LDL Cholesterol Levels?

How often you need to check your LDL level depends on your health history. Most healthy adults should aim to have an LDL cholesterol test every 4–6 years2. Those with diabetes, heart disease, or a family history of high cholesterol should get checked more frequently.

Children should have their total cholesterol checked between the ages of 9–11 and again as younger adults between the ages of 17–21. If children are already at greater risk for heart disease due to obesity or diabetes, they may need to have their LDL levels tested every year.

If you want to monitor your total cholesterol levels without a trip to the doctor’s office, you can try the Cardi Health app. You can keep track of your cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart rate while following a personalized program that caters to your current health status.

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Key benefits
  • Personalized activity plan to suit the user
  • Personalized nutrition plan
  • Takes into account dietary requirements, preferences, and allergies
  • Action plans generated from the tracking tool
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Cardi Health offers a detailed insight into your heart’s performance with critical data that you can store in one place. The app’s mission is to help you level out your blood pressure and cholesterol healthily so you can lower your risk of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.

What Causes Elevated LDL Levels?

Elevated LDL levels tend to occur due to unhealthy lifestyle choices. However, they can result from factors outside of your control. Many factors can increase your LDL level, so it is essential to make lifestyle changes that bring your blood cholesterol back into the ideal range.

Here are some common causes of an elevated LDL level:

  • A diet high in saturated and trans fats
  • A lack of physical activity and leading a sedentary lifestyle
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Some medications can raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels, such as antidepressants, beta-blockers, diuretics, and retinoids
  • Genetics and family history of elevated cholesterol
  • Age, as cholesterol levels tend to increase as you get older

Symptoms of Elevated LDL Cholesterol

Elevated and high cholesterol levels usually do not come with symptoms. Only a blood test3 can detect if you have higher amounts of LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream. Without a regular check-up, you might never learn that you are at higher risk of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.

A complete cholesterol test, called a lipid profile or lipid panel, is a simple blood test that measures your total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It tests for low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol.

How to Lower LDL Cholesterol to an Optimal Level?

An elevated LDL cholesterol result is not ideal, but there are plenty of ways to reach optimal levels. The first thing to do is to start making simple lifestyle changes that will benefit your heart health. Leading a healthy lifestyle is the most effective strategy for lowering cholesterol.

Here are 5 ways to return your LDL level to the optimal category:

#1 Increase soluble fiber intake

Increasing your daily intake of soluble fiber will help you lower total and LDL cholesterol4. Soluble fiber is a fiber found in plant foods that transforms into a gel-like substance in the stomach and intestines. It can bind cholesterol and reduce absorption into the bloodstream.

As well as lowering cholesterol, high-fiber foods have several other heart health benefits5. Eating more fiber can reduce blood pressure, support blood sugar control, and help you lose weight by keeping you satisfied for longer. All of these factors contribute to good overall health.

Some of the best soluble fiber foods to include in your diet are:

  • Apples
  • Black beans
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Chia seeds
  • Chickpeas
  • Hazelnuts
  • Lentils
  • Oats

Also if you are feeling a lack of fibers we would recommend to add fiber supplements to your diet.

#2 Eliminate saturated fats

Too much saturated fats can clog your arteries with plaque, raise LDL cholesterol, increase weight gain, and contribute to heart disease6. You need to exclude these harmful fats from your diet to improve your cholesterol levels. It primarily means cutting out processed foods.

Try to replace biscuits, cakes, cured meats, cheese, and other high-fat dairy products with foods containing mono and polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats support your heart, and examples include avocado, olive oil, sardines, fatty fish, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.

#3 Reduce bad habits

Many bad habits can fuel your bad cholesterol. Things like smoking7, binge drinking alcohol, and binge eating are common habits that elevate cholesterol. These factors also promote weight gain, and being overweight is a leading cause of high blood pressure8 and cholesterol.

Quitting smoking, reducing your alcohol intake, and practicing mindful eating are essential lifestyle changes to try. Creating positive habits will have remarkable effects on your long-term health. You will feel better, look better, and have more motivation to accomplish your goals.

#4 Exercise

A lack of exercise can raise bad cholesterol and reduce the good cholesterol in your bloodstream. Participating in physical activity is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make, no matter your age. Moving your body helps balance your overall cholesterol.

The US guidelines recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes9 of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly. You can split this into daily 30-minute sessions of activities you enjoy. You could keep it simple with walking or take up a hobby such as cycling, jogging, or swimming.

#5 Take supplements and medications

If you have made the necessary lifestyle changes but are still battling with elevated levels of bad cholesterol, some supplements and medicines help to lower cholesterol. You can purchase supplements without a prescription, but you will need approval for medications.

Among the best supplements for lowering cholesterol are:

  • Beta-glucans
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Green tea
  • Psyllium
  • Niacin

Your healthcare provider might prescribe the following cholesterol-lowering drugs10:

  • Statins
  • PCSK9 inhibitors
  • Fibric acid derivatives (also known as fibrates)
  • Ezetimibe
  • Bile acid sequestrants (also called bile acid resins)

Other Ways to Reduce LDL Levels

Below, you can discover some additional methods of lowering cholesterol:

  • Eliminate trans fats from your diet
  • Eat fewer refined carbohydrates
  • Eat more foods containing omega-3 fatty acids
  • Eat more nuts
  • Drink more water
  • Manage your portions and serving sizes
  • Reduce your daily caloric intake to lose weight
  • Follow a healthy sleep schedule
  • Manage your stress levels
  • Regularly monitor your cholesterol
From what age is it recommended to check LDL cholesterol?

According to current guidelines, children from the age of 9 are encouraged to get their total cholesterol checked and again when they reach the ages of 17–21. Early screening is essential for children and adolescents with obesity or a family history of elevated cholesterol.

What has the most impact on LDL cholesterol?

A diet high in saturated fats impacts your LDL level the most. High-fat foods, including fatty cuts of meat, butter, lard, cheese, and highly processed meats like bacon and sausages, raise your total cholesterol and heighten your risk of heart disease, stroke, and obesity.

  1. Y.Pirahanchi, H. Sinawe, M. Dimri. (2022). Biochemistry, LDL Cholesterol. National Center for Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519561/https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/cholesterol_screening.htm
  2. J. H. Sundjaja, S.l Pandey. (2022). Cholesterol Screening. National Center for Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560894/
  3. Ghada A. Soliman. (2019). Dietary Fiber, Atherosclerosis, and Cardiovascular Disease. A medical article. MDPI: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/5/1155 
  4. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2022). Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983 
  5. L. Hooper, N. Martin, O. F. Jimoh, C. Kirk, E. Foster, A. S. Abdelhamid. (2020). Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease. A review. Cochrane Library: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD011737.pub2/full 
  6. R. B. Jain, A. Ducatman. (2018). Associations between smoking and lipid/lipoprotein concentrations among US adults aged ≥20 years. A review. Journal of Circulating Biomarkers: https://journals.aboutscience.eu/index.php/jcb/article/view/2089 
  7. C. Cercato, F. A. Fonseca. (2019). Cardiovascular risk and obesity. A review. Biomedcentral: https://dmsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13098-019-0468-0
  8. Yun Jun Yang. (2019). An Overview of Current Physical Activity Recommendations in Primary Care. A review article. Korean Journal of Family Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6536904/
  9. Cleveland Clinic Medical Staff. (2022). Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs. Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/8744-cholesterol-lowering-drugs 
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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