10 Scary Effects of High Cholesterol on the Body from 10 Scary Effects of High Cholesterol on the Body

10 Scary Effects of High Cholesterol on the Body

High cholesterol is most often the result of an unhealthy lifestyle, but one’s genes can also play a role. “There are genetic conditions that can lead to either overproduction of cholesterol, or, more commonly the inability to break down excess cholesterol,” Dr. Tania Elliott, Chief Medical Officer of EHE, says. Think of LDL “bad” cholesterol as the bad person who throws trash all over, making roads unpassable. HDL “good” cholesterol is, using the same logic, the nice person picking up the trash, clearing the way.

Chest pain

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“High cholesterol itself doesn’t cause chest pain just by circulating in the blood,” Dr. Elliott says. However, she adds, when your arteries harden from cholesterol build up, two things can happen: One, your arteries can get so narrow over time that blood can’t flow well through the heart (can cause chest pain when you exert yourself or exercise); or two, the cholesterol plaque that builds up in your arteries suddenly ruptures, causing sudden chest pain and a heart attack.

Kidneys

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“When blood flow to the kidneys is impaired due to cholesterol buildup, you can get swelling and fluid buildup, especially in your legs, elevated blood pressure, and, in severe cases, kidney failure, where you stop urinating,” Dr. Elliott says. That is a life threatening emergency, she adds.

Stomach

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“When blood flow to the stomach is impaired, you end up with pain, just above the navel,” Dr. Elliott says. “It comes and goes but most commonly occurs about a half hour after eating.” If you have a complete blockage, you get severe abdominal pain lasting hours, and emergency surgery is required, she adds.

Gallstones

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Cholesterol gall stones are the most common kind of gall stones. “They can get stuck in the opening of the gallbladder, leading to abdominal pain, on the right side, just below your rib cage,” Dr. Elliott says. “If your body doesn’t clear the gall stone, you can end up with a blockage that results in pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas) and/or cholecystitis (inflamed gall bladder).” Surgery is required to remove the gall bladder in these cases, she adds.

Peripheral artery disease

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People often talk about cholesterol and arteries in connection to strokes and heart attacks. But peripheral artery disease (when narrowed blood vessels reduce blood flow to the limbs) is more common than you think. Up to 10 percent of adults over the age of 55 can have peripheral artery disease, Dr. Elliott says. “Most of the time it isn’t symptomatic, but the most common sign is leg pain with exerting yourself or exercise,” she adds.

Numbness

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Your legs and feet can feel numb or too weak even when you’re resting when you have high cholesterol or peripheral artery disease. Patients can also experience tingling as well and may cramp more easily. Other signs of peripheral artery disease include a weak pulse in your limbs, unusually cold limbs, poor wound healing and blue or pale skin.

Arteries

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The fatty deposits can clog arteries. The buildups are called plaque, which is a hardened mixture of cholesterol, fat, and other elements. As plaque builds up, an artery wall gets thicker. This narrows the opening, reducing blood flow and the supply of oxygen to cells, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Plaque may even totally block blood flow to the heart, brain, pelvis, legs, arms or kidneys, leading to potentially life-threatening diseases.

Liver

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Excess cholesterol is removed from the body via the liver, which secretes cholesterol in bile or converts it to bile salts. Exceptionally high cholesterol levels in the blood can contribute to liver damage. Fat will buildup in the liver, which can cause fatty liver disease, according to the University of Michigan Health System.

Heart

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Too much bad cholesterol means not enough of the good kind. This increases the chances that cholesterol will start to slowly build up in the inner walls of arteries that feed the heart, possibly leading to a heart attack. “Plaques take years to build up, approximately 5-10, Dr. Elliott says. High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack, according to AHA.

Brain

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High “bad” cholesterol can lead to carotid artery disease, which is the condition when there is plaque in the neck arteries that supply blood to the brain. This is what happens when a stroke, which is a medical emergency, occurs. Symptoms include sudden loss of balance, headache, dizziness, slurring words, blurred vision, inability to move, and/or facial asymmetry.