High cholesterol develops when your blood levels of this lipid rise above the normal range. Having excess cholesterol increases your risk of developing atherosclerosis, a condition that occurs when cholesterol attaches to an artery wall.
Without treatment, cholesterol keeps accumulating. As the fatty plaque enlarges and hardens, it narrows the artery and interrupts blood flow.
When the plaque gets too large, or it ruptures and creates a blood clot, it stops the flow of blood. Then you have a heart attack or stroke.
You can end up with atherosclerosis in any artery. The most common include:
The plaque develops in the arteries carrying oxygen-rich blood to your heart.
In this condition, plaque develops in the arteries transporting oxygen-rich blood to your brain.
Peripheral artery disease can develop in any of the arteries throughout your body, but it most often occurs in your legs.
High cholesterol doesn't cause symptoms until the plaque gets large enough to significantly clog the artery. When that happens, tissues don't get enough oxygen and you have symptoms such as chest pain or leg pain. Unfortunately, the first symptom is often a heart attack or stroke.
Your liver naturally produces cholesterol. You also get cholesterol through your diet. No matter where it comes from, all cholesterol is the same. Good and bad cholesterol develop as you digest dietary cholesterol.
During digestion, your body turns cholesterol into tiny packages called lipoproteins, wrapping small pieces of cholesterol in a protein cover. The composition of each lipoprotein determines if it's good or bad cholesterol.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are called bad cholesterol because they stay in your bloodstream. These fats cause atherosclerosis.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are called good cholesterol because they collect LDL. Then they carry it to your liver, where the cholesterol is eliminated.
In the early stages, lifestyle changes such as following a healthy diet, getting more exercise, and losing weight may be enough to lower your cholesterol and stop the progression of fatty plaque.
If lifestyle changes don't get your cholesterol back to normal or your cholesterol is dangerously high, your provider prescribes cholesterol-lowering medications. When you have a significant blockage, they perform a minimally invasive procedure to clear away the plaque and restore circulation.
If you have questions about high cholesterol or want to be screened for your risk of developing atherosclerosis, call Coastal Cardiology of Orange County or book an appointment online today.