What can cause a sudden increase in cholesterol? 6 possible factors

Cholesterol is a waxy substance similar to fat. Your body needs a certain amount of it to make cell membranes, vitamin D, etc.

Your liver naturally produces all the cholesterol you need. However, certain health conditions and behaviors can raise your blood cholesterol levels.

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

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a high blood cholesterol level is considered to be 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher. A healthy cholesterol level is below 200 mg/dL.

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

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

  • eating an unbalanced diet
  • a lack of physical activity
  • being overweight or obese

These factors tend to cause cholesterol to rise over a longer period of time.

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

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

It is also possible that genetics causes high cholesterol. This is called familial hypercholesterolemia.

In some cases, cholesterol may rise faster. Possible factors that can cause cholesterol to rise faster include:

High coffee consumption

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

In a small, week-long study in 2018, researchers looked at the impact of daily espresso consumption in young adults. They determined that the average consumption of four espressos per day was associated with an increase in 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 raise 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 coffee-related high cholesterol, consider limiting espresso-based beverages.

Psychological stress

Stress and cholesterol levels are also linked.

According to a study 2017, psychological stress can increase the risk of having high LDL and total cholesterol levels. This could be due to the cortisol hormone, which increases during times of stress. High levels of cortisol have a cholesterol-raising effect on the body, according to a article 2020.

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


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

According to a 2021 article, when smoking cigarettes, large amounts of nicotine enter the bloodstream via the lungs. This causes the body to release neurotransmitters called catecholamines.

The increase in catecholamines increases lipolysis or the breakdown of lipids, which increases the production of LDL cholesterol. Raising LDL cholesterol also reduces levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol.

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


Certain medications can have a cholesterol-raising effect on the body. This includes prescription drugs such as:

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

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


During pregnancy, it is natural for blood cholesterol to increase by 30-40%. This is because cholesterol is essential for the healthy growth and development of the fetus.

According to a 2021 scientific paper, high cholesterol levels during pregnancy are linked to increased levels of:

  • estrogen and progesterone
  • placental lactogen
  • insulin resistance

However, it is possible for cholesterol to rise 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 medications.

rapid weight loss

Another potential cause is rapid weight loss.

In a 2019 study, three adults lost weight rapidly while following very low-calorie diets. In all three cases, their LDL cholesterol temporarily rose before falling back to normal levels. According to the researchers, this could be linked to changes in metabolism.

If you are interested in losing weight, be sure to work with a medical professional. They can help you lose weight safely while providing advice on health-related side effects, such as sudden increases in cholesterol.

Hypercholesterolemia occurs when your cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL or higher. This can be harmful to your health as it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Certain behaviors or conditions can cause a sudden increase in blood cholesterol. This includes high coffee consumption, rapid weight loss, smoking, and psychological stress. Being pregnant and taking certain medications, such as blood pressure medications, can also raise cholesterol quickly.

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

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