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6 factors causing a sudden increase in cholesterol

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Cholesterol is a waxy substance that’s similar to fat. Your body needs a certain amount of it to make cell membranes, vitamin D, and more.

Your liver naturally makes all the cholesterol you need. However, certain health conditions and behaviours can increase your blood cholesterol.

High blood cholesterol can pose a danger to your health. It increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, high blood cholesterol is considered to be 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or more. A healthy cholesterol level is less than 200 mg/dL.

There are many possible causes of high cholesterol. This article will discuss these causes, including those that involve sudden increases in cholesterol.

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What can cause high cholesterol?

According to the American Heart Association (AHA)Trusted Source, the most common causes of high cholesterol include:

  • eating an unbalanced diet
  • a lack of physical activity
  • having overweight or obesity

These factors tend to cause an increase in cholesterol over a longer period of time.

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If you have high cholesterol, a doctor will likely recommend lifestyle changes in an effort to lower your cholesterol. This may include:

  • changes to your diet and eating habits
  • adding more physical activity to your daily routine
  • losing weight
  • quitting smoking, if you smoke

It’s also possible for genetics to cause high cholesterol. This is called familial hypercholesterolemia.

What can cause a sudden increase in cholesterol levels?

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In some cases, cholesterol can increase more rapidly. Possible factors that can cause cholesterol to rise more quickly include:

High coffee consumption

Thanks to its caffeine content, caffeine is often associated with rapid spikes in high blood pressure. But coffee can increase your blood cholesterol levels as well.

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In a small 1-week 2018 study, researchers examined the impact of daily espresso consumption in young adults. They determined that consuming an average of four espressos per day was associated with increased total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol.

This cholesterol raising effect may be due to the diterpenes, or oils, in coffee. According to a 2015 article, diterpenes increase cholesterol by inhibiting bile acid synthesis.

The 2018 study notes that espresso-based drinks contain more diterpenes than filtered or instant coffee. So, to minimize the risk of high cholesterol from coffee, consider limiting drinks made with espresso.

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Psychological stress

Stress and cholesterol levels are also related.

According to a 2017 studyTrusted Source, psychological stress can raise the risk of having high LDL and total cholesterol. This could be due to the hormone cortisol, which spikes during times of stress. High cortisol levels have a cholesterol raising effect on the body, according to a 2020 articleTrusted Source.

To reduce the risk of high cholesterol caused by stress, try to practice stress management techniques such as exercise, meditation, and breathing exercises.

Cigarette smoking

Smoking cigarettes is another possible cause of a spike in cholesterol levels. This is due to nicotine, the main ingredient in tobacco products such as cigarettes.

According to a 2021 article, during cigarette smoking, high amounts of nicotine enter the bloodstream via the lungs. This causes the body to release neurotransmitters called catecholamines.

The rise in catecholamines increases lipolysis, or lipid breakdown, which increases LDL cholesterol production. The rise in LDL cholesterol also reduces levels of HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol.

The best way to reduce the risk of smoking-induced high cholesterol is to avoid or quit cigarette smoking.

Medications

Some medications might have a cholesterol raising effect on the body. This includes prescription drugs such as:

  • antihypertensive drugs
  • beta-blockers
  • danazol
  • retinoids
  • antipsychotics
  • anticonvulsants
  • immunosuppressants
  • antiviral drugs
  • interferons

In general, these medications increase blood cholesterol levels by altering lipid metabolism. Certain medications, such as antipsychotics, might also increase cholesterol by promoting weight gain.

To prevent an increase in cholesterol due to medication, talk with a doctor. They can determine your risk and, if needed, change your medication or dosage.

Pregnancy

During pregnancy, it’s natural for blood cholesterol to increase by 30% to 40%. That’s because cholesterol is essential for healthy fetal growth and development.

According to a 2021 scientific article, high cholesterol levels during pregnancy are related to increased levels of:

  • estrogen and progesterone
  • placental lactogen
  • insulin resistance

However, it’s possible for cholesterol to increase too much during pregnancy. This is called gestational hypercholesterolemia or maternal hypercholesterolemia.

A doctor can help manage the condition by suggesting dietary changes and prescribing lipid lowering drugs.

Rapid weight loss

Another potential cause is rapid weight loss.

In a 2019 study, three adults quickly lost weight by following very low calorie diets. In all three cases, their LDL cholesterol temporarily spiked before dropping to normal levels. According to the researchers, this might be related to changes in metabolism.

If you’re interested in losing weight, be sure to work with a healthcare professional. They can help you lose weight safely while providing guidance for health-related side effects, such as sudden increases in cholesterol.

The bottom line

High blood cholesterol occurs when your cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher. This can be harmful for your health, as it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Some behaviours or conditions can cause sudden increases in blood cholesterol. This includes high coffee intake, rapid weight loss, cigarette smoking, and psychological stress. Being pregnant and taking certain medications, such as antihypertensive drugs, can also quickly increase cholesterol.

The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is to get a blood test. A doctor can determine if you’re at risk of high cholesterol due to short-term or long-term causes.

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