High cholesterol is associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease. That can include coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. High cholesterol has also been linked to diabetes and high blood pressure. To prevent or manage these conditions, work with your doctor to see what steps you need to take to lower your cholesterol.
Cholesterol and Coronary Heart Disease
The main risk from high cholesterol is coronary heart disease. If the cholesterol level is too high, cholesterol can build up in the walls of your arteries. Over time, this build-up -- called plaque -- causes hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis. This causes arteries to become narrowed, which slows the blood flow to the heart muscle. Reduced blood flow can result in angina (chest pain) or in a heart attack if a blood vessel gets blocked completely.
Cholesterol and Stroke
Cholesterol and Peripheral Vascular Disease
High cholesterol also has been linked to peripheral vascular disease. This refers to diseases of blood vessels outside the heart and brain. In this condition, fatty deposits build up along artery walls and affect blood circulation. This occurs mainly in arteries that lead to the legs and feet.
Cholesterol and Diabetes
Diabetes can upset the balance between HDL and LDL cholesterol levels. People with diabetes tend to have LDL particles that stick to arteries and damage blood vessel walls more easily. Glucose (a type of sugar) attaches to lipoproteins (a cholesterol-protein package that enables cholesterol to travel through blood). Sugarcoated LDL remains in the bloodstream longer and may lead to the formation of plaque. People with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, can have low HDL and high triglyceride (another kind of blood fat) levels. Both of these boost the risk of heart and artery disease.
Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (also called hypertension) and high cholesterol also are linked. When the arteries become hardened and narrowed with cholesterol plaque and calcium, the heart has to strain much harder to pump blood through them. As a result, blood pressure becomes abnormally high. High blood pressure is also linked to heart disease.