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Understanding what high cholesterol does to your body

high cholesterol, WestMed Family Healthcare

Adults with high cholesterol have double the risk of developing heart disease compared to those with normal cholesterol levels. And the worst part is that you won’t know it’s coming. High cholesterol doesn’t cause symptoms until the problem is severe enough to block blood flow.

At WestMed Family Healthcare, we’re dedicated to screening your risk for high cholesterol, identifying problems early, and taking immediate steps to bring cholesterol levels back to normal. As you read about how high cholesterol affects your body, you’ll understand why we’re passionate about annual wellness exams and preventive health care.

Causes of high cholesterol

You may be surprised to learn that high cholesterol isn’t simply the result of consuming too much cholesterol. In fact, the causes of high cholesterol are complicated. As a general guideline, your cholesterol levels are affected by the mix of fats and carbohydrates you eat.

Your diet isn’t the only factor. Lack of exercise and being overweight lead to high cholesterol levels. Chronic diseases also have an impact. An underactive thyroid can raise your levels of cholesterol, while Type 2 diabetes can increase bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol.

The proportion of bad cholesterol to good cholesterol in your blood significantly influences your total cholesterol levels. What makes cholesterol good or bad? Here’s the scoop.

When you digest cholesterol, it can’t go into your bloodstream until it’s wrapped in a shell of protein. These little cholesterol packages are called lipoproteins. Each lipoprotein has varying proportions of cholesterol on the inside and protein on the outside — differences that determine whether it’s good or bad

High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are the good cholesterol because their job is to collect cholesterol and carry it out of your bloodstream. On the other hand, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) stays in your bloodstream, where it can cause cardiovascular disease.

The most important thing to remember about high cholesterol is that it doesn’t cause symptoms until it damages your arteries. The best way to protect your health is to come in for your annual wellness visit. We screen your health, evaluate your risk factors, and run blood tests to determine your cholesterol levels. If it’s high, we take steps to lower your cholesterol before it affects your body.

Cholesterol’s impact on your arteries

LDL circulates through your bloodstream, where it delivers cholesterol to cells that need it to produce hormones and strengthen cell membranes. As LDLs travel through your arteries, these little packages of cholesterol can attach to rough or damaged areas of arterial walls.

Once LDL sticks to the lining of the artery, it penetrates the wall and causes inflammation. This is the start of atherosclerosis. The higher your blood levels of LDL,  the more likely you are to develop atherosclerosis.

Over time, a variety of biochemical reactions take place, leading to smooth muscle cells and other fats mixing in with the cholesterol plaque. Calcium also joins the group, which makes the plaque harden.

As the plaque increases in size, it blocks blood flow through the artery. If the plaque is unstable, it can rupture, sending pieces of the plaque through your bloodstream. When a piece of plaque gets caught in your heart, brain, or lungs, you have a heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism.

Cholesterol-related diseases

The atherosclerotic plaques caused by high cholesterol can occur in any artery. As a result, you may develop:

Coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease is the result of atherosclerosis in the arteries that carry blood to your heart. Lack of blood weakens your heart and causes problems such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and arrhythmias.

Carotid artery disease

The carotid arteries carry blood to your brain. When they develop atherosclerosis, you’re at risk for a stroke.

Peripheral artery disease

Plaque may accumulate in the arteries that supply your stomach, arms, and head, but it most often affects your legs. In your legs, peripheral artery disease causes painful muscle cramps when you walk and can lead to sores that don’t heal.  

Chronic kidney disease

Cholesterol plaques can occur in the arteries that deliver blood to your kidneys. When this happens, you’re at risk for chronic kidney disease.

If you have any of the risk factors for high cholesterol, like obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes, call WestMed Family Healthcare or schedule an appointment using the online booking feature. We’re here to protect your health with customized treatment that lowers your cholesterol and prevents it from getting dangerously high.

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