What’s the Buzz

The Bee Healthy Blog

Symptoms of High Cholesterol in Females

Key Takeaways

  • Women frequently have lower cholesterol levels than men during the reproductive years. However, menopause can lead to an increase in cholesterol numbers.

  • Medical conditions like chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, lupus, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) put you at a higher risk of high cholesterol.

  • High cholesterol is one of the major causes of coronary artery disease and the leading cause of death for women in the United States. 

What does high cholesterol do to a woman's body?

High cholesterol often does not cause any symptoms in men or women until it is severe enough to cause serious health problems such as heart attack or stroke. However, there are some gender-based differences, including:

Variations in Cholesterol Levels with Age in Women

Women usually have lower cholesterol levels during their reproductive years compared to men. But after age 55, menopause can cause a fall in estrogen levels that leads to an increase in cholesterol numbers in women. Fluctuations in estrogen levels during a woman’s menstrual cycle can also affect cholesterol levels. Evidence suggests that cholesterol levels rise during pregnancy to support the growth and development of the fetus.

Risk Factors Related to Health Conditions

Certain medical conditions are associated with a higher risk of having unhealthy cholesterol levels, including chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease (high or low thyroid hormone), lupus, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Some of these conditions occur only in women (PCOS), while others are far more common in women (lupus and thyroid disease). 

Risk of Heart Disease in Women

High cholesterol is one of the major causes of heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of female deaths in the United States, accounting for approximately 1 in 5 deaths in women in 2021.

High blood pressure, which is also a risk factor for heart disease and which often occurs along with high cholesterol, frequently goes underdiagnosed in women. Alarmingly, less than a quarter of all women with hypertension have their blood pressure under control, with the majority of women with high blood pressure at increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease, and other health complications.

How can women lower cholesterol levels?

Both men and women can lower cholesterol levels with the following strategies:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. Avoid saturated fat, trans fat, processed foods, sugary and salty foods, and red meat. Eat lots of high-fiber foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats found in different nuts and seeds.

  • Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise a week.

  • Quit smoking if you smoke. 

  • Limit alcohol intake. Avoid the use of other substances, such as illegal drugs.

  • Manage stress. Participate in yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, and art/music therapy to keep anxiety under control.

How does your body feel when your cholesterol is too high?

In most cases, your body can feel normal when your cholesterol levels are high. The excess lipids (fats) in your blood can form plaques in your blood vessels for years and reduce blood flow in many organs in your body without you knowing it. However, angina or chest pain can happen when the cholesterol plaques cause the narrowing of the arteries that provide the heart with blood and oxygen. Stable angina is the most common form and is usually triggered by physical activity. However, unstable angina is a medical emergency as it can be the start of a heart attack. 

Angina is a symptom of coronary artery disease. Talk to your doctor to learn more about the two types of chest pain and when you should seek emergency medical care.   

As mentioned, high cholesterol can take place for years, causing the narrowing of blood vessels without any symptoms, and the only way to find out you have high cholesterol levels is with a blood test called a lipid panel or lipid profile. It is generally recommended that you get your cholesterol tested every 5 years until age 45, every 2 years between the ages of 45 and 65, and every year after age 65. Your doctor may recommend you get your cholesterol checked more frequently if you are at an increased risk of high cholesterol. For example, more frequent tests may be recommended if you have comorbidities such as high blood pressure, obesity, or a family history of high cholesterol, stroke, or heart disease.

What are the signs of high cholesterol?

In most people, high cholesterol does not cause any signs or symptoms until it causes other problems in the body. High levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol can increase the risk of the following conditions and can cause symptoms when severe:

  • High blood pressure: Many people with high blood pressure don’t have any symptoms. Very high blood pressure can cause dizziness, chest pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, anxiety, and difficulty breathing. It can also elevate the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

  • Type 2 diabetes (high blood sugar levels): Symptoms may include increased thirst, increased hunger, frequent urination, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, tiredness, blurred vision, non-healing sores or wounds, and unexplained weight loss.

  • Peripheral artery disease (narrowing or blockage of blood vessels in the lower limbs): Symptoms can include pain in the legs with physical activity, which gets better with rest, smooth and shiny skin, hair loss, weakness, leg ulcers, and cold or numb toes.

  • Stroke: Signs and symptoms of stroke can include sudden weakness, numbness, or paralysis on one side, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech, dizziness, poor coordination, loss of balance, trouble walking, vision problems, and a sudden, severe headache. Stroke is a medical emergency and you should seek medical care without delay.

Does high cholesterol cause pain?

While high cholesterol levels typically do not have any symptoms, pain in different areas of the body can happen, depending on where cholesterol builds up and forms plaques in the blood vessels. 

  • Plaque in the coronary arteries that supply the heart can cause angina (chest pain).

  • Fatty deposits in the arteries that supply the brain can cause sudden, severe headaches.

  • Too much cholesterol in the arteries of the arms and legs can cause limb pain.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that the body needs for many important functions, including building healthy cells. But too much bad cholesterol can be harmful, specifically, high levels of LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) can increase the risk of heart diseases and harmful health complications. Excessive LDL cholesterol can build up in the arterial walls for years and cause narrowing in the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart, brain, and other parts of the body.

Cholesterol plaques can build up inside blood vessels and slowly grow for years. The narrowing of blood vessels leading to the heart can cause symptoms called angina, or chest pain. Besides angina in some cases, most people don’t experience specific symptoms of high cholesterol. Therefore, similar to high blood pressure, high cholesterol is considered a “silent killer.” 

However, not only can cholesterol plaques block blood flow to vital organs like the heart and brain, but a piece of the plaque can break off and rupture. A blood clot forms at the site of the rupture and can block the blood supply to the heart, causing a heart attack. On the other hand, a stroke can happen if the blood clot obstructs the blood flow to the brain. 

Doctors can order a simple blood test called the lipid panel to measure total cholesterol and the subtypes of cholesterol (fats) in the blood, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol or “bad” cholesterol), very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), triglycerides, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol or “good” cholesterol). 

Lifestyle factors such as eating a poor diet with too many foods containing saturated fats and trans fats, lack of exercise, obesity, smoking, and too much alcohol are the major risk factors for high cholesterol. 

Consequently, lifestyle changes, such as avoiding trans fat, increasing daily intake of fiber and unsaturated fats, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation, can help control cholesterol levels and reduce a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease.

What are normal total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels?

A total cholesterol level below 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) is considered normal. Ideally, LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” cholesterol) should be below 100 mg/dL, triglyceride levels below 150 mg/dL, and HDL cholesterol levels (the “good” cholesterol” above 60 mg/dL.

Key Takeaway

Just like their male counterparts, high cholesterol often does not cause any symptoms in females until it is severe enough to cause serious health problems such as heart attack or stroke. Get your blood cholesterol checked according to recommendations for your age and family history. Make lifestyle changes to keep your cholesterol numbers in the normal range. Take cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins, if needed and as recommended by your healthcare provider.



  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11918-cholesterol-high-cholesterol-diseases

  2. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hypertension

  3. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/type-2-diabetes

  4. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/PAD.htm#:

  5. https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/signs_symptoms.htm#:

  6. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000625

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2936053/

  8. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm