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Diseases Linked to High Cholesterol

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 04, 2021

High cholesterol is linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. That can include coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. High cholesterol has also been tied to diabetes and high blood pressure.

To prevent or manage these conditions, work with your doctor. You also can take some simple steps that will help you lower your cholesterol -- and your risk of these related diseases.

Cholesterol and Coronary Heart Disease

The main risk from high cholesterol is coronary heart disease. If your cholesterol level is too high, cholesterol can build up in the walls of your arteries. Over time, this buildup -- 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

Atherosclerosis causes arteries that lead to the brain to become narrowed and even blocked. If a vessel carrying blood to the brain is blocked completely, you could have a 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 happens 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 help plaque form. 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 diseases.

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 work much harder to pump blood through them. As a result, blood pressure becomes unusually high. High blood pressure is also linked to heart disease.

5 Steps to Lower Cholesterol and Risks of Related Diseases

A few simple changes can lower your cholesterol and cut your risk for conditions linked to high cholesterol.

  1. Ask for expert advice on lifestyle changes. Your doctor can help you come up with a plan for healthy eating and exercise.
  2. Give your diet a makeover. Go for foods like oatmeal, walnuts, tuna, salmon, sardines, and tofu. Stay away from things that are high in trans and saturated fats and simple sugars.
  3. No smoking. It lowers your “good” (HDL) cholesterol. If you quit, you’ll have more of it. There are lots of other benefits for your whole body.
  4. Get moving! Even modest amounts of exercise, like half an hour a day of brisk walking, help you control weight. It’s also good for other things that put you at risk for heart disease, like diabetes and high blood pressure. Exercise can lower your triglyceride levels and raise your “good” (HDL) cholesterol. Both are good for your heart.
  5. Take your medications. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help lower your cholesterol. Take them as directed. Questions? Ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Other Resources

These groups offer more information about treating and preventing cardiovascular disease and other conditions linked to high cholesterol.

American College of Cardiology (ACC)

This group works to improve heart health and care for people with cardiovascular disease.

Heart House

2400 N Street NW

Washington DC, 20037

800-253-4636, ext. 5603

E-mail: [email protected]

www.acc.org

American Heart Association (AHA)/American Society of Hypertension (ASH)

This organization is dedicated to advocacy and education about heart disease.

7272 Greenville Ave.

Dallas, TX 75231

800-AHA-USA1

www.heart.org

American Stroke Association

This agency teaches you to reduce your risk of stroke and make positive lifestyle changes.

7272 Greenville Ave.

Dallas, TX 75231

888-4STROKE

www.stroke.org

InterAmerican Heart Foundation (IHF)

This group works in Latin America and the Caribbean to lower disability and death from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other related conditions.

7272 Greenville Ave.

Dallas, TX 75231-4596

214-706-1301

E-mail: [email protected]

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www.interamericanheart.org

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

This government agency supports research on the causes, prevention, and treatment of cardiovascular, lung, and blood diseases.

Building 31

31 Center Drive

Bethesda, MD 20892

301-592-8573

www.nhlbi.nih.gov

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institutes of Health.

American Academy of Family Physicians.

American Heart Association.

American College of Cardiology: “Our Strategic Direction.”

InterAmerican Heart Foundation” “Who We Are.”

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