If you smoke, you’ve probably heard all the reasons that it’s bad for your health. But if you also have high cholesterol, you might not realize that this combination can be especially dangerous to your heart. If you smoke and have high cholesterol, you have a much greater risk for heart attack and stroke than if you have only one of these risk factors. Thankfully, you can control both smoking and high cholesterol. Find out why it’s worth the effort. Understanding the Risks of High Cholesterol Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your body, as well as in some foods. Although cholesterol has a negative reputation, your body actually needs a certain amount of it to work correctly. Unfortunately, many people have too much cholesterol in their blood because of the foods they eat. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol makes up most of the body’s cholesterol. This “bad” cholesterol puts you at high risk for heart disease because it slowly collects and hardens in your arteries to form plaque. This narrows your arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. You can lower your LDL cholesterol levels by changing your diet, exercising, and not smoking. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to reduce your cholesterol levels and keep them under control. The Smoking and Cholesterol Connection Smoking damages your body’s arteries and blood vessels. This increases your risk for plaque buildup. It also reduces the amount of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) — the “good” cholesterol — in your blood. This is a problem because HDLs absorb cholesterol and carry it back to the liver, where it is flushed from the body. High levels of HDLs in the blood protect against heart disease. Experts estimate that if you smoke, you have a 2 to 4 times greater chance of developing heart disease than if you don't smoke. The risk is even greater if you smoke and struggle with high cholesterol. Three risk factors — such as smoking, having high cholesterol, and having a family history of heart disease — increase your risk for heart disease tenfold. Calling It Quits The best way to reduce your risk for heart disease is to quit smoking. Even light or occasional smoking can lead to heightened cholesterol problems. This further raises your risk for heart problems. The good news is that quitting smoking completely can significantly improve your levels of HDL cholesterol, which helps protect your heart. Stopping smoking isn’t easy, but millions of people have successfully quit. There are many resources available to help. Take the first step here. Key Takeaways If you smoke, you have a 2 to 4 times greater chance of developing heart disease than if you don’t smoke. Your risk is even greater if you have high cholesterol. Smoking damages your arteries and blood vessels, which increases your risk for plaque buildup. Smoking also reduces the amount of HDL, or “good,” cholesterol in your blood. Quitting smoking completely can significantly improve your levels of HDL cholesterol.