8 complications of high cholesterol, how to prevent them

If left untreated, high cholesterol contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can lead to a whole host of problems. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver and also found in some foods that plays an important role in many bodily functions. The body needs it to build cells, and it is a major component of bile, which aids digestion.

The presence of cholesterol in the body or in the blood is not intrinsically bad. But problems can arise if the blood levels are too high. There are two main types of cholesterol that circulate in the blood: high density lipoproteins (HDL) and low density lipoproteins (LDL). HDL, also known as “good” cholesterol, helps protect against the damaging effects of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol.

If your LDL level is too high or your HDL level is too low, cholesterol can combine with other substances to form a hard deposit inside your arteries called plaque. The formation of plaques in your blood vessels (atherosclerosis) increases your risk of developing several health problems.

When LDL cholesterol is high, it can be very dangerous, causing heart attacks, strokes, and clogged arteries.
But your total cholesterol level (which includes HDL, LDL, and a percentage of your triglyceride level) also matters, as it generally tracks LDL cholesterol closely. If your cholesterol level is too high, it is important to take steps to lower it to avoid health problems in the future or to stop or potentially reverse problems you have already developed.

Although you should take the cholesterol-lowering drugs prescribed for you, there is no substitute for lifestyle, and drugs can never compensate. He points out that the most important steps you can take to lower your cholesterol levels and your risk of health complications are not smoking, getting enough exercise, eating a heart-healthy diet, and lose weight if necessary.

Common Health Complications of High Cholesterol

1. High blood pressure

If the arteries in your body narrow due to plaque deposits, your blood pressure can only rise. This is because your blood vessels can no longer relax as efficiently to allow your blood to flow at a healthy level of pressure. Both high cholesterol and high blood pressure are silent killers, in that they have no direct symptoms. Unless the rates are extremely high. But both can damage your blood vessels over time, increasing your risk of other health problems.

2. Coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease develops when plaque deposits form in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. At first, this narrowing may not cause any overt symptoms or problems. If a person has coronary artery disease but has not had a heart attack and the disease was treated with a stent or medication, the heart muscle may be normal. But if plaque in the coronary arteries reduces blood flow to the heart enough, it can lead to heart failure, which is the inability of the heart to pump enough blood throughout the body. And if a blood clot forms in the coronary arteries, it can lead to a heart attack.

3. Chest pain (angina pectoris)

Chest pain is a common symptom of reduced blood flow to the heart due to plaque buildup in the coronary arteries. If you see a doctor for chest pain, one of the first things he’ll think of is coronary artery disease. When an obstruction severely reduces blood flow to the heart, the heart muscle does not get the oxygen it needs, a condition known as ischemia. This ischemia can activate pain receptors.

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4. Heart attack

A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked. The blockage is usually caused by the buildup of plaque (fat and cholesterol) in the arteries. Sometimes the plaque can rupture and trigger the formation of a blood clot. Hypercholesterolemia does not only play a role in the initial formation of plaque in the coronary arteries. Once plaque has formed, high cholesterol can also cause plaque to become more unstable, increasing the risk of heart attack.

5. Stroke

A stroke occurs when a blood clot travels to the brain, depriving the organ of oxygen and other nutrients. As with a heart attack, the longer the area is deprived of oxygen, the more permanent the damage. In reality, these are the same risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Indeed, if your cholesterol level is high and plaque builds up in your arteries, it will affect the arteries that lead to your heart and those that lead to your brain.

6. Peripheral arterial disease

When high cholesterol levels cause plaque buildup in blood vessels, the heart and brain aren’t the only areas where problems can arise. You may also notice decreased blood flow to your leg muscles. If a person has a clogged artery in their leg that is blocking blood flow to the muscle, they will complain of pain. When she starts walking, she feels pain in her leg, and when she stops walking, this pain goes away. Pain in peripheral arterial disease is due to reduced oxygen to the muscles of the leg, much like chest pain in coronary artery disease occurs because the heart does not get enough oxygen.

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7. Chronic Kidney Disease

The kidneys are organs that can be damaged by high cholesterol. Narrowing of the arteries leading to the kidneys is a common problem. If a large enough obstruction forms, the kidneys will be deprived of oxygen over time, leading to permanent damage. One of the possible signs of clogged renal arteries is high blood pressure that does not respond to drug treatment. Indeed, the kidneys play a key role in the regulation of blood pressure by filtering the liquids present in our body, including in the blood.

8. Alzheimer’s disease

In July 2021, The Lancet published an observational study of 1.8 million people, which found that high LDL cholesterol in midlife was associated with a moderate risk of developing dementia, including including Alzheimer’s disease. This suggests that high LDL cholesterol is a recently discovered risk factor for dementia, although researchers have not found a consistent relationship for HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

How to prevent complications

To treat or prevent any complications related to high cholesterol, the first thing to do is to identify aspects of their lifestyle that can be improved. In general: reduce saturated and trans fats in your diet, favor fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes per week and lose his excess weight.

* The information and services available on in no way replace the consultation of competent health professionals. []

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