High cholesterol can clog your arteries and lead to serious heart problems if left untreated.
High cholesterol is a sneaky condition. It builds up over time and causes no symptoms, yet it can lead to serious problems, like coronary artery disease, heart attack, or stroke. (Learn more about the difference between heart disease and heart attack here.)
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all the cells in your body. It’s essential: Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. “We do need cholesterol to live a relatively normal healthy life, but when we have an excess amount of cholesterol, that’s when trouble can ensue,” says Rachel Bond, MD, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital.
When you have too much cholesterol in the blood, it can combine with other substances in the blood to form plaque that can build up slowly over time, hardening your arteries (formally called atherosclerosis). “When you have plaque in your arteries, think of it like a blockage in a drain in your house; the water doesn’t flow as well, and in the case of the body when blood isn’t flowing to an area, it causes problems,” says Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, a clinical instructor in medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Plaque buildup can affect the entire body. If a clogged artery is blocking blood flow to the heart, it can cause angina or a heart attack; if it’s your brain, it can cause stroke; and if it’s your lower leg it could cause circulation and motility problems, says Dr. Knoepflmacher. “It can also affect your kidney function. [We] have arteries in our kidneys, and with time it can cause your kidneys to not function appropriately which can make your blood pressure raise,” says Dr. Bond.
High cholesterol can also trigger inflammation, because to the body, plaque is a foreign invader that it wants to fight. Inflammation is your body’s natural immune reaction to injury or infection, but when it persists day in and day out, it has a negative effect. Chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk several conditions, like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
“The thing about high cholesterol is that, there [are] no symptoms, unless you happen to be unlucky enough to have a heart attack, or stroke, or some manifestation of cardiovascular disease. You could have cholesterol levels in the 200, 300, or 400 range and have really no symptoms,” says Dr. Knoepflmacher. (Learn more about what cholesterol numbers actually mean.) The only way you would know if you have high cholesterol is if you got a blood test.
Knowing your individual health markers—like your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers—is incredibly important for your overall health. Knowing if your cholesterol is too high is the first step lowering it—along with your risk of heart disease or having a heart attack. It allows you to make heart smart lifestyle changes or take cholesterol-lowering medication if you need it.
“Managing your cholesterol is a long-term investment in your health,” says Dr. Knoepflmacher. “You may not feel any different in the short term, but you’re giving yourself a better shot at a happy healthy heart, healthy blood vessels, and a longer life.”
Ready to test your heart smarts? Find out your cholesterol IQ with this quiz.
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So cholesterol is a waxy substance,
ultimately fat that's within our body.
00:00:07,454 --> 00:00:11,663
And we do need cholesterol to live
a relatively healthy, normal life.
00:00:11,663 --> 00:00:15,251
But when we have excessive
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that's when trouble could ensue.
00:00:17,885 --> 00:00:20,972
00:00:20,972 --> 00:00:24,714
High cholesterol is a situation where
there's too much cholesterol circulating
00:00:24,714 --> 00:00:25,880
in your bloodstream.
00:00:25,880 --> 00:00:28,790
And that can lead to a situation
where plaques build up on
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the inside of the arteries and the walls.
00:00:31,410 --> 00:00:33,060
When you have plaques in your arteries,
00:00:33,060 --> 00:00:36,190
think of it like a blockage
in a drain in your house.
00:00:36,190 --> 00:00:38,140
The water doesn't flow as well.
00:00:38,140 --> 00:00:39,360
And in the case of the body,
00:00:39,360 --> 00:00:42,590
when blood's not flowing to an area,
it causes problems.
00:00:42,590 --> 00:00:47,390
If it's your heart, it can cause angina,
it can cause heart attacks.
00:00:47,390 --> 00:00:49,530
If it's your brain, you can get strokes.
00:00:49,530 --> 00:00:50,600
And if it's your lower legs,
00:00:50,600 --> 00:00:53,170
you can lose a limb because you're
not getting enough blood flow.
00:00:53,170 --> 00:00:55,190
It also can affect
your kidney function,
00:00:55,190 --> 00:00:57,980
because we do also have
arteries in our kidneys.
00:00:57,980 --> 00:01:01,970
And with time, it could cause your kidneys
to sort of not function appropriately,
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which can make your blood pressure raise.
00:01:03,758 --> 00:01:07,418
Having high cholesterol doesn't
necessarily mean that you have heart
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00:01:07,971 --> 00:01:12,450
But it definitely increases your risk of
developing heart disease down the line.
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The thing about high
cholesterol is there's no symptom.
00:01:15,660 --> 00:01:19,030
Unless you happen to be unlucky enough
to have a heart attack or a stroke or
00:01:19,030 --> 00:01:21,470
some manifestation of
00:01:21,470 --> 00:01:25,510
But you could have cholesterol
levels in the 2 or 3, 400 range and
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have really no symptoms.
00:01:26,850 --> 00:01:28,289
So knowing your numbers and
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knowing your numbers at a particular
age are very important.
00:01:31,553 --> 00:01:34,480
Cuz it allows you to say,
do I need lifestyle changes?
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Do I need to be started on medications,
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Additionally, knowing your risk
factors are important as well.
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Because that allows the doctor to say,
maybe you should be screened a little bit
00:01:43,930 --> 00:01:47,074
sooner than what's recommended
by the guidelines out there.
00:01:47,074 --> 00:01:52,937
Atherosclerosis. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (Accessed on February 26, 2018 at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/atherosclerosis)
Cholesterol. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. (Accessed on February 26, 2018 at https://medlineplus.gov/cholesterol.html)