What happens inside your blood vessels when you have high cholesterol?

A sneak peek into the health of your blood vessels.

Cholesterol has negative connotations. When you think of cholesterol, you regard it as harmful to the body. Little do you know, our body needs cholesterol to function correctly. Cholesterol is a crucial building block for cell walls and is also vital for producing certain hormones. However, the key is moderation, and the same goes for cholesterol. High cholesterol in the blood is linked to the risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes. Every part of our human body needs cholesterol. Most of it is produced in the liver, with only a small proportion of our body’s cholesterol coming from our diet. 

 

Cholesterol

Every cell in the human body needs cholesterol. The liver makes most of the body cholesterol. Only a small proportion comes from our diet. The bloodstream transports cholesterol from the liver to the other organs and tissues in the body. Spare cholesterol is transported back to the liver in the blood.

Although cholesterol is often referred to as a “blood fat,” it is not entirely correct chemically speaking. But, like fats, cholesterol does not dissolve in water (or blood), so our bodies have a unique system to transport it. The liver packs the cholesterol into tiny parcels. Cholesterol, proteins, fats (lipids), and other things in our blood make up the parcels. They can be transported through our bodies in the bloodstream because they are mainly made up of lipids and proteins; the parcels are called “lipoproteins.” There are two different kinds of lipoproteins, which differ in how densely they are packed:

  • “LDL” cholesterol: “LDL” stands for “low-density lipoprotein.” This type of parcel transports cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body. High LDL cholesterol levels are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, which is why it is sometimes referred to as “bad” cholesterol.
  • “HDL” cholesterol: “HDL” stands for “high-density lipoprotein.” This type of parcel transports cholesterol back to the liver from the body’s organs and tissues. Because high levels of HDL cholesterol are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, it is sometimes called “good” cholesterol.

 

Symptoms

You might want to look out for the symptoms that point towards high cholesterol, but there aren’t any symptoms. A blood test can only detect high cholesterol, so it is usually only picked up by chance when you have a blood test done. A high HDL and low LDL level is a worrying measurement and is recognized as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. This is why most people do not know they have high cholesterol. If you have a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol, you might want to get a cholesterol check. 

 

Blood vessels

High cholesterol leads to a dangerous condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis accumulates and deposits on the walls forming plaques in a way, “clog” up the, and this clogging makes it increasingly difficult for the blood to flow in the arteries reducing the blood flow through your arteries. This leads on to other complications:

  • Chest pain: You have arteries supplying blood to your heart called the coronary arteries. If these arteries are affected, you might feel chest pain (angina) and other classic coronary artery disease symptoms.
  • Heart attack: If the cholesterol plaques tear or rupture, a blood clot can form. This blocks the blood flow, or the free plaque can plug an artery downstream. If the blood flow to the heart is cut off, you’ll have a heart attack. 
  • Stroke: A stroke occurs similarly to a heart attack. If a blood clot blocks the blood supply to a section of the brain, it results in a stroke. 

 

There are many reasons why high cholesterol is very dangerous. Diet plays a significant factor in regulating cholesterol levels. You might be slim, eat well, and exercise regularly, but anyone can have high cholesterol. Some people have a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol or have risk factors increasing their chances of high cholesterol. There are lifestyle changes that you can make to help lower cholesterol levels, but for some, the doctor might prescribe you some cholesterol-lowering medications. If you know, you might be at risk of high cholesterol, visit your GP and get a blood test. They will provide you with advice on what to do next.

 

References

  1. Mayo Clinic. High cholesterol - Symptoms and causes. [Online] Mayo Clinic. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/symptoms-causes/syc-20350800#:~:text=With%20high%20cholesterol%2C%20you%20can [Accessed: 11th July 2020]
  2. Information NC for B, Pike USNL of M 8600 R, MD B, USA 20894. What is cholesterol and how does arteriosclerosis develop?. [Online] www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2017. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279327/
  3. Heart UK. What is High Cholesterol? | HEART UK- The Cholesterol Charity. [Online] Heartuk.org.uk. Available from: https://www.heartuk.org.uk/cholesterol/what-is-high-cholesterol‌

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