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What does cholesterol do to the body?

High cholesterol levels and in particular high LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) levels can lead to heart disease – but how?1

What cholesterol does to the body

Healthy blood vessels are flexible and elastic but in people with high LDL-C levels, blood vessels can become clogged up or hardened over time.  This process is called atherosclerosis.2

If you have too much LDL-C in your blood, cholesterol may accumulate on your artery walls.  Eventually deposits called plaques form.  Plaques are made up of cholesterol, fat and other substances.2

Over time these plaques can become larger until they restrict the blood flow to an organ – such as your heart.2

Sometimes these plaques can burst – spilling fat and cholesterol into your blood stream and triggering a blood clot which can completely block an artery.  If this occurs in an artery leading to the heart it can trigger angina or a heart attack, if it occurs in arteries that lead to the brain you may have a transient ischemic attack (TIA, also known as mini-stroke) or a more serious stroke.2

High cholesterol is one cause of atherosclerosis. But other things like high blood pressure, high triglycerides (the main transport for fats in your body), smoking and diabetes can also lead to the formation of plaques, hardening and blocking of arteries.2

Remember atherosclerosis occurs slowly over time so you may not have any symptoms.2

Atherosclerosis is a condition that can be slowed or delayedand one way of doing this is to bring down your cholesterol levels to a healthy level if they are too high. 


References

  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is Cholesterol. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc [Last accessed 27 February 2017]
  2. Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions, Arteriosclerosis / atherosclerosis. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arteriosclerosis-atherosclerosis/basics/definition/con-20026972?p=2 [Last accessed 27 February 2017]