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Circulatory Health

Can High Cholesterol Cause Headaches? Everything to Know


Man at home having a headache in front of laptop

Can high cholesterol cause headaches? The question is a source of confusion for many individuals navigating the complexities of cholesterol’s impact on health. While high cholesterol is commonly recognized as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, its potential influence on neurological health, specifically headache occurrence, is often overlooked.

In this blog post, we aim to delve into the intricate relationship between high cholesterol and headaches, shedding light on how elevated cholesterol levels might indirectly affect neurological well-being. By exploring potential pathways through which high cholesterol could contribute to headaches, we seek to address discomforts that are frequently dismissed or overlooked.

As we uncover the layers of this connection, we will also discuss potential treatment strategies for managing cholesterol-related headaches, offering insights into maintaining overall well-being in the face of cholesterol concerns.

What Does High Cholesterol Do to the Body?

High cholesterol in the bloodstream can have a myriad of effects on bodily functions, particularly concerning cardiovascular health and blood circulation[1]. Understanding these impacts is crucial for recognizing the importance of managing cholesterol levels. Here’s a breakdown of the physiological effects:

  • Atherosclerosis Development – High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, can lead to the buildup of plaques on the artery walls. This narrows and hardens the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis[2], which can impede blood flow and lead to heart disease.
  • Increased Risk of Coronary Heart Disease – The buildup of plaques in the coronary arteries can reduce the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease and potentially leading to angina (chest pain) or a heart attack[3].
  • Stroke Risk – Atherosclerosis can also affect arteries that supply blood to the brain[4]. If these arteries are blocked, it may result in a stroke, characterized by the sudden loss of brain function.
  • Hypertension – High cholesterol can contribute to the hardening of arteries, which makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood. This can lead to increased blood pressure[5], or hypertension, putting additional strain on the cardiovascular system.
  • Peripheral Arterial Disease – When cholesterol builds up in the arteries of the limbs, especially the legs, it can cause peripheral arterial disease[6], characterized by reduced blood flow, pain, and mobility issues.

Understanding these effects underscores the importance of managing cholesterol levels to maintain overall health and prevent serious cardiovascular conditions.

Can High Cholesterol Cause Headaches?

The link between high cholesterol and headaches is a subject of growing interest among medical researchers and healthcare providers. While high cholesterol itself is often dubbed a “silent” condition due to its lack of clear symptoms, there are potential indirect pathways through which it might contribute to headache experiences. 

In essence, high cholesterol’s impact on the body, as previously discussed, revolves largely around its contribution to atherosclerosis and the subsequent strain on cardiovascular health. The reduced blood flow and potential for blockages not only increase the risk of heart disease and stroke but may also influence headache occurrence through several mechanisms:

  • Blood Flow Restriction – The narrowing and hardening of arteries can limit blood flow to various parts of the body, including the brain. Reduced cerebral blood flow might lead to conditions that trigger headaches[7] as the brain’s oxygen supply becomes compromised.
  • Vascular Inflammation – Cholesterol buildup can trigger an inflammatory response in the body. This inflammation of the blood vessels, especially within the brain or leading to it, can be a contributing factor to headache development. The inflammation might cause vessels to dilate, exerting pressure on surrounding nerves, which is a common cause of headaches.
  • Hypertension – High cholesterol is a risk factor for hypertension, a condition that by itself is known to be associated with headaches[8]. The increased blood pressure can cause headaches due to the extra strain on the blood vessels in the brain. Individuals experiencing hypertension may report headaches that occur particularly during episodes of very high blood pressure.
  • High Cholesterol Dizziness – While not a direct cause of headaches, dizziness is a symptom that can accompany high cholesterol-related conditions[9], such as hypertension or peripheral arterial disease. This dizziness, sometimes coupled with episodes of blurred vision, can precede or accompany headaches, making it a relevant symptom in the discussion of high cholesterol and headaches.

It is important to note, however, that while these pathways suggest potential links between high cholesterol and headaches, the connection is not universally acknowledged as direct. Most individuals with high cholesterol will not experience headaches as a direct symptom of the elevated cholesterol levels themselves but might encounter them as a consequence of the broader cardiovascular impacts.

Furthermore, the type of headache experienced can vary widely, ranging from tension-type headaches, which are more common and may be related to the stress of managing a chronic condition like high cholesterol, to more severe forms like migraines, which could be exacerbated by the vascular effects described above.

In conclusion, while high cholesterol may not directly cause headaches, the conditions it contributes to or exacerbates – such as reduced blood flow, vascular inflammation, and hypertension – can be linked to headache symptoms. This highlights the importance of managing cholesterol levels not just for heart health but potentially to mitigate associated conditions like headaches. Individuals experiencing unexplained headaches alongside symptoms of high cholesterol dizziness or other cardiovascular risk factors should consult healthcare providers for a comprehensive evaluation and management strategy.

How to Treat Cholesterol Headaches?

Managing headaches associated with high cholesterol involves addressing the root cause of high cholesterol itself. By implementing lifestyle changes and considering medical interventions, individuals can not only lower their cholesterol levels but also alleviate the headaches linked to vascular issues caused by high cholesterol. Here are several strategies for managing these so-called cholesterol headaches:


Man stretching and warming-up for trail running outdoors

Regular physical activity is a cornerstone of cardiovascular health[10]. It can help lower high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is beneficial. Exercise improves blood circulation and overall cardiovascular health, which can alleviate the vascular issues that contribute to headaches. 

Aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, along with muscle-strengthening exercises on two or more days a week, can significantly impact cholesterol levels and headache symptoms.

Clean Diet

Assorted healthy foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and oats

Adopting a heart-healthy diet plays a crucial role in lowering cholesterol. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, while low in saturated and trans fats, can effectively reduce LDL cholesterol levels[11]. This nutritional approach can also decrease the frequency of cholesterol-related headaches by improving overall vascular health and reducing arterial plaque buildup. 

Incorporating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and walnuts, and using olive oil instead of butter are simple changes that can have a significant impact.

Don’t Smoke

A single lit cigarette with a smoldering tip and rising smoke

Smoking exacerbates high cholesterol’s negative effects on cardiovascular health by raising LDL cholesterol levels and constricting blood vessels. This constriction can worsen headache symptoms by impairing blood flow. Quitting smoking can lead to immediate improvements in circulation and oxygenation of tissues, including the brain, which can alleviate headaches and significantly enhance overall health.

Lower Alcohol Consumption

Woman drinking alcohol at home

While moderate alcohol consumption might have some heart health benefits, excessive intake can negatively affect cholesterol levels. High alcohol consumption can lead to an increase in triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood, contributing to the development of high cholesterol. By moderating alcohol intake, individuals can manage their cholesterol levels more effectively and reduce the occurrence of headaches associated with vascular issues.

Implementing these strategies not only addresses the direct issue of high cholesterol but also tackles the indirect effects that can lead to headaches. Regular exercise, a clean diet, quitting smoking, and moderating alcohol consumption are practical steps that contribute to improved cardiovascular health, thereby reducing the frequency and intensity of headaches related to high cholesterol. 

Key Takeaways

So, can high cholesterol cause headaches? In this blog post we explored the complex relationship between high cholesterol and headaches, uncovering potential indirect connections and offering strategies for management. Here are the main points to remember:

  • High cholesterol does not directly cause headaches, but it contributes to conditions like atherosclerosis and hypertension, which can impair blood flow to the brain and lead to headache symptoms.
  • Regular physical activity and a heart-healthy diet are key in managing high cholesterol levels and, by extension, reducing the risk of cholesterol-related headaches.
  • Avoiding smoking and moderating alcohol intake are critical lifestyle choices that support better vascular health and can alleviate headache symptoms.
  • Implementing these strategies not only improves cardiovascular health but also addresses the broader impacts of high cholesterol, including the potential for headaches.
  • Consulting with healthcare providers for personalized advice and treatment options is essential for effective cholesterol and headache management.
What Are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol Dizziness?

Symptoms of high cholesterol-related dizziness may include a feeling of unsteadiness, lightheadedness, or vertigo. These symptoms can result from reduced blood flow to the brain due to narrowed or blocked arteries, a condition often associated with high cholesterol levels.

What Are the 5 Signs of High Cholesterol?

The five signs of high cholesterol often include:
1. No symptoms at all (making regular testing crucial).
2. Pain in areas like the chest or legs due to poor blood circulation.
3. Yellowish growths on the skin (xanthomas).
4. Corneal arcus, visible as gray or white rings around the cornea.
5. Peripheral arterial disease, leading to leg pain.

What Is the Best Drink to Lower Cholesterol?

The best drink to lower cholesterol is green tea. Rich in antioxidants, green tea can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels and improve heart health. Its beneficial compounds, particularly catechins, have been shown to positively affect cholesterol metabolism.


[1] Watson, S. (2023, May 22). The effects of high cholesterol on the body. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/high-cholesterol/effects-on-body

[2] Rafieian-Kopaei, M., Setorki, M., Doudi, M., Baradaran, A., & Nasri, H. (2014, August 1). Atherosclerosis: process, indicators, risk factors and new hopes. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4258672/

[3] Coronary artery disease – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic. (2022, May 25). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronary-artery-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350613

[4] Atherosclerosis and stroke. (2023, November 6). www.stroke.org. https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/stroke-risk-factors/atherosclerosis-and-stroke

[5] High blood pressure dangers: Hypertension’s effects on your body. (2023, November 28). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20045868

[6] Zemaitis, M. R., Boll, J. M., & Dreyer, M. A. (2023, May 23). Peripheral arterial disease. StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430745/

[7] Sissons, C. (2018, June 27). What to know about reduced blood flow to the brain. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322275

[8] Finocchi, C., & Sassos, D. (2017). Headache and arterial hypertension. Neurological Sciences. PubMed Center (PMC). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28527058/

[9] Clinic, C. (2023, December 13). Can high cholesterol cause headaches? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/can-high-cholesterol-cause-headaches

[10] Skoumas J, et al. (2023). Physical activity, high density lipoprotein cholesterol and other lipids levels, in men and women from the ATTICA study. PubMed Center (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC194868/

[11] Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease. (2022, April 28). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-healthy-diet/art-20047702

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