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Complications of atherosclerosis

The link between high cholesterol and the complications of atherosclerosis is similar to the link between smoking and lung cancer. Although smoking does not guarantee that you will develop lung cancer, it dramatically increases your chances. The same is true of high cholesterol and atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis can develop in any of your arteries, including those that supply blood to your heart muscle, your brain, and your arms and legs. Each of the potential complications of atherosclerosis is associated with arteries in a different part of your body. The following table summarizes the effects that three important complications of atherosclerosis can have on your health.

Complications of atherosclerosis


Artery affected

How it can affect your health

Coronary artery disease (CAD) Coronary arteries, which supply the heart
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • Sudden death
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) Large arteries that supply the arms and legs
  • Decreased blood circulation to your arms and legs
  • Weakness or pain in arms or legs
  • Paleness or blue tinge to your skin
  • Loss of hair in affected areas
  • Ulcers or loss of limb

Cerebrovascular disease

Carotid and cerebral arteries, which supply the brain
  • Failure of the brain to receive oxygenated blood
  • Stroke
Author Robin Parks, MS
Editor Kathleen M. Ariss, MS
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
Last Updated July 11, 2008

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 11, 2008
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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