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What Are the Consequences of High Cholesterol?

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If you’re over the age of twenty, you should have your cholesterol levels checked every 5 or 6 years. High cholesterol is very common in American adults and it is one of the biggest contributors to heart disease. Not only does high cholesterol have the potential to damage your heart, but it can lead to some other nasty complications as well. Keep reading to learn about the consequences of high cholesterol.

Good versus Bad Cholesterol

Many people think of cholesterol as a substance found in unhealthy, fatty foods. While this is true, cholesterol is also a natural substance produced in the body – it is made in the liver and it is essential for the formation of cell membranes and certain hormones. Technically speaking, cholesterol is a waxy substance similar to a fat which means that it doesn’t dissolve in water so it can’t travel through the bloodstream like other substances. The liver produces lipoproteins which attach to cholesterol molecules, helping it move through the blood stream.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are also known as “bad” cholesterol. This is the type of cholesterol that can accumulate in your arteries and contribute to dangerous diseases like heart attack and stroke. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are known as “good” cholesterol and they actually help to lower LDL levels by returning LDL to the liver so it can be eliminated from the body. In a healthy person, the liver produces all the cholesterol the body needs, so eating foods that are high in cholesterol can cause your cholesterol levels to rise higher than necessary.

Complications of High Cholesterol

According to the CDC, as many as 30% of American adults have high LDL cholesterol levels. Risk factors for high cholesterol include a family history of high cholesterol, overweight or obesity, a diet high in fatty foods, and diabetes or kidney disease. High cholesterol doesn’t usually produce any symptoms, so you may only know you have it if your doctor orders a blood test.

Though high cholesterol doesn’t show signs or symptoms, that doesn’t mean it isn’t damaging your body. Here are some of the potential complications of high cholesterol:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Angina
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease

If you don’t take steps to lower high cholesterol, it will continue to build up in your arteries and veins – this is called atherosclerosis. Over time, the buildup of cholesterol and other substances can become so significant that the diameter of the affected artery narrows, limiting the amount of blood that can flow through. If the artery becomes blocked, restricting blood flow to the heart, it could cause a heart attack. If the blockage occurs in a vessel in the brain, it could cause a stroke. Atherosclerosis can also contribute to angina, or chest pain.

In addition to increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke, chronic high cholesterol can increase your risk for peripheral vascular disease, or PVD. Peripheral vascular disease is a condition in which the arteries or veins outside the heart and brain become blocked or narrowed. PVD can cause pain or fatigue, particularly in the extremities, and may increase your risk for a dangerous blood clot. As the arteries narrow, blood pressure increases which puts you at risk for a number of other conditions including heart disease. Kidney disease is another complication of high cholesterol that can happen if plaque accumulates in the renal arteries.

Although high cholesterol is very common, it is not something you should take lightly. This condition can worsen over time and lead to some pretty serious health consequences. To keep your cholesterol in check you should follow a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise. If that isn’t enough, talk to your doctor about medications or other medical treatment options.

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