Why do high cholesterol levels result in a buildup of fat in blood vessels?

Why do high cholesterol levels result in a buildup of fat in blood vessels?

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As is well known, high levels of cholesterol can lead to a buildup of fat in blood vessels, which can lead to them being constricted which makes it more difficult for blood to pass through. In fact, this can end up with the formation of fatty deposits that, if they suddenly break, could result in a clot that causes a heart attack/stroke. Therefore, the resulting buildup of fat because of these high cholesterol levels is highly important.

My question is why do higher levels of cholesterol result in a buildup of fat at all? Why do fatty acids care that there's more cholesterol around? I know cholesterol and fats are both lipids, but beyond that, I don't see the connection.

The phrase "high cholesterol", and the measurement itself is a marker for high levels of a particular lipoprotein, Low density lipoprotein (LDL). Because cholesterol and triglycerides are not soluble in plasma, they are packaged by the liver into soluble particles called lipoproteins. Packaged in lipoproteins, these lipids are transported throughout the body, for use by different organs and tissues. As these lipids are dropped off, the lipoprotein is converted from one form to another, with characteristic biophysical and physiologic properties. The LDL is a late stage of a lipoprotein before reuptake at the liver (and other organs, but mainly the liver) via the LDL receptor. We happen to know that people who have high levels of circulating LDL are at risk for, e.g., cardiovascular disease because of The Framingham Study, and that if you can reduce circulating LDL levels you can decrease the risk for these diseases. The molecular basis of this risk was demonstrated to be, in large part, failure of clearance of LDL particles because of ineffective receptor mediated endocytosis, as described in this wonderful 1986 paper in Science.

From this presentation:

  • Some LDL cholesterol circulating through the bloodstream tends to deposit in the walls of arteries. This process starts as early as childhood or adolescence.
  • White blood cells swallow and try to digest the LDL, possibly in to digest the LDL, possibly in an attempt to protect the blood vessels.
  • In the process, the white blood cells convert the LDL to a toxic (oxidized) form.
  • More white blood cells and other cells migrate to the area, creating steady low steady low-grade inflammation in the artery wall.
  • Over time, more LDL cholesterol and cells collect in the area. The ongoing process creates a bump in the artery wall called a plaque. The plaque is made of cholesterol, cells, and debris.
  • The process tends to continue, growing the plaque and slowly blocking the artery.

There is a good overview of the general physiology here in Robbins The Pathologic Basis of Disease. Chapter 5, Genetic Disorders, reviews the physiology, and the relevance to disease, in the section on Familial Hypercholesterolemia. The review is relevant to hypercholesterolemia in general.

What Are the Causes of High Cholesterol?

Below are few common factors that may increase bad cholesterol in the body:

  • Hereditary: Cholesterol or heart diseases may run in the family and is usually inherited.
  • Comorbid diseases: Diabetes, liver diseases, and kidney and thyroid diseases
  • Smoking cigarettes or passive smoking: Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them more prone to accumulate fatty deposits. Smoking might also lower your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol.
  • Age: The risk of high cholesterol increases with age as functioning of the liver may reduce and may become less able to remove low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
  • Diet: Eating an excessively unhealthy diet that includes saturated fat, found in animal products, and trans fats, found in some commercially baked cookies and crackers and microwave popcorn, can increase the cholesterol level. Foods that are high in cholesterol, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, will also increase your cholesterol.
  • Excessive weight: Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher puts you at risk of high cholesterol. Obesity is directly related to high cholesterol and bad health.
  • Physical activity: Lack of physical activity and exercise may increase bad cholesterol deposits in the arteries. Exercise helps boost our body's HDL or good cholesterol.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is an important substance required by the body to build healthy cells. It is waxy and sticky in nature. Excess cholesterol is harmful for the body. Cholesterol usually comes from the below sources:

  • Liver: It is the main site for cholesterol synthesis in the body.
  • Food: The remainder of cholesterol in the body comes from foods derived from animals (meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products). Foods that are usually high in saturated and trans fats cause the liver to make more cholesterol. This added production means excess cholesterol production, which is harmful for the body.
  • Some tropical oils: Oils such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil if consumed in high quantity may lead to high cholesterol levels. These oils are often found in baked goods.

What are the different types of cholesterol?

There are two types of cholesterol:

  • Bad cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: It transports cholesterol particles throughout the body. LDL cholesterol builds up in the walls of the arteries, making them hard and narrow.
  • Good cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: It picks up excess cholesterol from the blood vessels and takes it back to your liver.

Too much of the bad kind, or not enough of the good kind, increases the risk of plaque buildup in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. A plaque is found on the inner side of the large blood vessels. It is made of cholesterol, calcium, and blood products. It makes the lumen of these blood vessels narrow.


Why is excessive cholesterol harmful?

Usually, cholesterol circulates in the blood, making the blood more viscous. As the amount of cholesterol in the blood increases, so does the risk to the health. Cholesterol can combine with other substances to form a thick, hard deposit on the inside of the arteries. This can narrow the arterial openings and also make them less flexible (a condition known as atherosclerosis). If a blood clot forms and blocks one of these narrowed arteries, it may result in a heart attack or stroke. With high cholesterol, one can develop fatty deposits in the blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits increase, making it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries. Sometimes, those deposits can break suddenly and form a clot that may cause a heart attack or stroke.

What are the acceptable levels for cholesterol?

Healthy levels of cholesterol don&rsquot vary much for typical adults. Variation of recommended levels tends to change due to other health conditions and considerations.

Mutations in the APOB, LDLR, LDLRAP1, or PCSK9 gene cause familial hypercholesterolemia. Changes in the LDLR gene are the most common cause of this condition. The LDLR gene provides instructions for making a protein called a low-density lipoprotein receptor. This type of receptor binds to particles called low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), which are the primary carriers of cholesterol in the blood. By removing LDLs from the bloodstream, these receptors play a critical role in regulating cholesterol levels. Some LDLR gene mutations reduce the number of low-density lipoprotein receptors produced within cells. Other mutations disrupt the receptors' ability to remove low-density lipoproteins from the bloodstream. As a result, people with mutations in the LDLR gene have very high levels of blood cholesterol. As the excess cholesterol circulates through the bloodstream, it is deposited abnormally in tissues such as the skin, tendons, and coronary arteries.

Less commonly, familial hypercholesterolemia is caused by mutations in the APOB, LDLRAP1, or PCSK9 gene. Proteins produced from these genes are essential for the normal function of low-density lipoprotein receptors. Mutations in any of these genes prevent cells from making functional receptors or alter the receptors' function. Hypercholesterolemia results when low-density lipoprotein receptors are unable to remove cholesterol from the blood effectively. Some people with familial hypercholesterolemia do not have a mutation in one of these genes. In these cases, the cause of the condition is unknown.

Both genetic and environmental risk factors play roles in familial hypercholesterolemia. Lifestyle choices including diet, exercise, and tobacco smoking strongly influence the amount of cholesterol in the blood and the risk of coronary artery disease. Additional factors that impact the outcome of the condition include a person's sex, age, and health problems such as diabetes and obesity.

Familial hypercholesterolemia accounts for only a small percentage of all cases of high cholesterol. Researchers are working to identify and characterize additional genes that may influence cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease in people with other forms of hypercholesterolemia.

Learn more about the genes associated with Familial hypercholesterolemia

Risk Factors for Plaque

Plaque build-up in the arteries is inevitable, but many risk factors may lead to atherosclerosis. Several of these risk factors can be controlled and help delay or prevent atherosclerosis, while others can’t be controlled.

The following risk factors should be carefully monitored.

  • High cholesterol level
  • Hypertension: A blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg over time is considered high if it remains at that level or goes above it
  • Smoking: Blood vessels not only narrow as a result of smoking, but smoking also raises cholesterol levels and blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance: When the body can't use its insulin properly, it builds up a resistance that may lead to diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Older age: Atherosclerosis risk increases with age, especially with unhealthy lifestyle choices. In men, the risk increases after age 45. In women, the risk increases after age 55
  • Family history of early heart disease: Atherosclerosis risk increases if your father or brother was diagnosed with heart disease before 55 years or if your mother or sister was diagnosed with heart disease before 65 years

Warning Signs of Plaque Buildup

Plaque in arteries doesn’t cause any symptoms or signs unless an artery has narrowed or is blocked and blood flow is unable to efficiently reach other parts of the body. Most people won’t know their arteries are hardened or blocked until they have a heart attack or stroke.

For example, a person with narrowed or blocked coronary arteries may have ischemic heart disease and experience angina. Other symptoms can be shortness of breath and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat rhythm).

People with blocked carotid arteries may experience symptoms that indicate a stroke. These may range from sudden weakness, confusion, paralysis, speech problems (speaking and understanding), and vision issues to severe headache, dizziness, and loss of consciousness.

If you experience any of the above, call your doctor or 911 immediately for emergency medical assistance.


There are many factors that influence your cholesterol levels, some of which you can easily control. While genetics also plays a role in determining the natural levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol in the blood, diet, weight, and exercise also play an even bigger role in controlling your cholesterol numbers. Eating foods that are low in saturated fats and cholesterol, managing your weight, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy sleeping schedule are all factors associated with lower LDL cholesterol levels and higher HDL cholesterol levels, thus lowering your overall risk of developing heart disease as well.

Cholesterol: High Cholesterol Diseases

High cholesterol increases the risk of other conditions, depending on which blood vessels are narrowed or blocked. Some of these diseases include:

Coronary heart disease

The main risk associated with high cholesterol is coronary heart disease (CHD). Your blood cholesterol level has a lot to do with your chances of getting heart disease. If your cholesterol is too high, it builds up on the walls of your arteries. Over time, this buildup is known as atherosclerosis. This condition causes arteries to become narrowed, and the narrowed blood vessels reduce blood flow to the heart. This can result in angina (chest pain) from not enough blood flow getting to the heart, or a heart attack in cases when a blood vessel is blocked completely and the heart muscle begins to die.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain becomes blocked or bursts. A stroke can result if the blood supply to the brain is reduced. When stroke occurs, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it starts to die.

High cholesterol also has been linked to peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which refers to diseases of blood vessels that are outside the heart and brain. In PAD, fatty deposits build up along artery walls and affect blood circulation, mainly in arteries leading to the legs and feet. The arteries of the kidney can also be affected.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is another disease linked to high cholesterol because diabetes can affect the different cholesterol levels. Even if blood sugar control is good, people with diabetes tend to have increased triglycerides, decreased high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and sometimes increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL). This increases the likelihood of developing atherosclerosis.

High blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol also are linked. When the arteries become hardened and narrowed with cholesterol plaque and calcium (atherosclerosis), the heart has to strain much harder to pump blood through them. As a result, blood pressure becomes abnormally high.

Does High Cholesterol Mean You Have Clogged Arteries?

It’s clear that having high cholesterol can be harmful for your cardiovascular system because it can increase your risk of having clogged arteries (such as arthrosclerosis – a term used to describe hardening of the arteries). Arteries are the most common of your blood vessels where the plague buildups due to excessive cholesterol in the blood occur. Excessive amounts of cholesterol that travel through the blood can affect the blood flow inside the arteries which then eventually can make your heart work harder in pumping the blood. And if your blood flow cannot run as well as it should, there will be many serious complications that occur such as hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

What is the difference between HDL and LDL?

In general, cholesterol is classified by the type of particles that carry cholesterol in the blood called lipoprotein. So, lipoprotein itself is a package of protein-cholesterol. LDL and HDL are the most common kinds of cholesterol discussed when it comes to the issue of lowering the risk of heart disease.

While LDL stands for low density lipoprotein, HLD stands for high density lipoprotein. And as the name suggests, LDL is high in fatty deposits and cholesterol. On the other side, HDL is very low in cholesterol.

Overall, we can say that HDL is good cholesterol and LDL is bad cholesterol. How they work in affecting the blood flow inside arteries opposing each other. While high LDL increases the risk of creating more plague buildups on the artery’s walls, HDL works in the opposite way (it can help lower LDL in the blood, for more detailed information about how HDL works in lowering your LDL visit this section)!

Diet high in soluble fiber and low in saturated fat can be helpful to boost your HDL and lower your LDL. See also best foods you need to eat to improve your cholesterol in here!

However, your diet is not the single reason of your increased LDL. Doing Regular exercise and practicing other healthy habits are also important to keep your LDL off and improve your entire health.

Arteries – what actually are they?

Arteries are one of your major blood vessels. They have crucial function to distribute the blood from the heart to the tissues /cells of the body. In other words, these blood vessels carry your blood rich in oxygen and essential nutrients to the cells of your body.

Imagine if this crucial mechanism doesn’t work as well as it should, there will be lots of complications that can be harm your entire health. Therefore, it’s very important to maintain your blood pressure and cholesterols (two variables that often affect the blood flow inside the arteries).

All of your arteries are a muscular tube lined by many smooth tissues. Generally, artery has 3 major layers intima, media, and adventitia. The inner layer of intima lined by another smooth tissue medically called endothelium. The image below (credit to WebMD) can explain clearly the position of each major layer of artery.

Clogged arteries can be caused by different factors. Arthrosclerosis (hardening of arteries) is not the single condition that can cause a clogged artery.

Temporal arteritis (a condition when there is inflammation in the scalp’s temporal artery), cerebrovascular accident (a kind of clogged artery that often cause stroke), arterial thrombosis (a sudden blot clot that occurs in one of arteries), and vasculitis (a medical term used to call inflammation that develop in a artery or more arteries at the same time) are other conditions that can lead to one or more clogged arteries.

What is atherosclerosis?

In normal and healthy condition, your arteries should be elastic and flexible. But over time or as you age, they can be stiff and stick – this process is medically called as arteriosclerosis (hardening of arteries).

And this can go faster than it should if you stick with unhealthy diet (especially diet high in saturated fat & cholesterol along with diet low in fiber) and followed with other unhealthy habits such as poor in exercise (lack of physical activity), smoking, lack of sleep, and so on.

Even uncontrollable stress can make the problem get worse since stress can increase your blood pressure – and as well we know that high blood pressure can raise LDL. See also why your cholesterol tends to increase as you age!

How about with atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a specific condition of arteriosclerosis that often used to call plague buildups from fatty deposits and cholesterol that form and attach on the walls of arteries which then eventually can inhibit the flow of the blood in the artery.

Over time, atherosclerosis can be potential to cause a clogged artery if left untreated.

How is atherosclerosis related to blood cholesterol levels?

All kinds of cholesterol (even for bad cholesterols such as LDL and triglyceride) are needed and required by your body to support some body’s functions. And there should be nothing to worry as long as they are in normal levels.

Unfortunately, your body can make its own cholesterol. In other words, generally your body doesn’t need cholesterol from outside. For this reason, it’s important to restrict foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats!

If you have high cholesterol, this means that there are lots of cholesterol and fatty deposits that travel through the blood carried by lipoprotein. And more fatty deposits in the blood can increase your chance of having more plague buildups on the walls of your arteries (atherosclerosis).

From the image above you see that the narrowed artery occur in artery with atherosclerosis. In this case, the blood cannot flow optimally because the narrowed diameter of the artery. And if you continuously stick with your unhealthy habits that can increase your LDL, there is chance for that narrowed artery to be clogged.

How long does it take for high cholesterol to clog arteries?

Unfortunately, there is no clearly answer of this question because many times clogged artery due to atherosclerosis is unpredictable – so we are only able to talk about ‘your chance’.

In general, sometime atherosclerosis can cause noticeable symptom (such as pain in chest and leg) in the middle and older age. It is progressive condition, but fortunately it is also treatable and preventable.

Furthermore, the chance of atherosclerosis from cholesterol to clog artery is affected by the following factors:

  1. Your physical activity level. More physical activity you do daily, lower chance of the plague to clog the artery. Therefore, it’s so important to have regular exercise!
  2. Your diet. If you love eating more foods high in cholesterol & saturated fat and eating fewer foods high in fiber, this can speed the accumulation of fatty deposits on the artery’s wall to cause a clogged artery.
  3. Overweight and obese – if you are not on your best and healthy scale, this can increase you chance of getting a clogged artery.
  4. Your age. Having a plague buildup of atherosclerosis when you are over 40 are more likely to cause a clogged artery if compared when you are younger than 30. As you age, the elasticity and flexibility of your blood vessels decreases, either for your metabolic rate (a crucial variable to help control and maintain your healthy weight).
  5. Other bad lifestyles that can speed the plague in the artery’s wall to cause a clogged artery include drinking alcohol too much, cigarette smoking, having uncontrolled stress, and diet high in salt because salt can cause hypertension (high blood pressure) – and hypertension can rise your LDL.

In addition, if you have diabetes, it’s important to control your blood sugar because more episodes of high blood sugar that you experience can damage the lining of arteries. And damaged areas on the walls of your arteries means that fatty deposits & cholesterol can penetrate the artery’s walls more easily.

The way of the plague buildups from atherosclerosis to clog arteries can come and behave in different ways that include:

You Eat Clean. Work Out. Then Why is Your Cholesterol High?

What to do when being (almost) vegan isn't making your numbers budge.

Cholesterol is an essential ingredient for human life, a building block for cells that&rsquos used to create hormones, bile, and other vital substances. But too much cholesterol in your blood greatly increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Most healthy adults should aim for an LDL level under 130 mg/dL.

In most people, regular exercise and a healthy diet will lower cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, lifestyle changes frequently aren&rsquot enough. Sometimes, it&rsquos because people can&rsquot commit to the radical changes needed. A vegan, plant-based diet offers the best shot at getting your cholesterol way down, but few are unwilling to stay away from animal products altogether. (We&rsquore looking at you, cheese. So very, very longingly.)

In many cases, your genes also conspire to keep your cholesterol levels high. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, it&rsquos possible no lifestyle change will ever get your levels into a healthy range. So what should you do? If your cholesterol level remains high despite the healthiest diet you can tolerate, you&rsquoll have to decide whether you should take medicine.

Who should consider meds

If you fall into any of these categories, statins are likely to provide a significant benefit (i.e. longer life, and much lower risk of heart attack or stroke), so talk with your doctor about them if:

You already have plaque in your arteries.

Your LDL target will be even lower than 130 &ndash it should be at least under 100 mg/dL, and ideally under 70 mg/dL.

You have diabetes.

Anyone with diabetes over the age of 40 should take a statin, since chronically high blood sugar greatly increases your risk of developing heart disease.

Your LDL is super high (>190 mg/dL).

You're a time bomb. Statins will likely drop your levels way down into a safer zone.

Your age, blood pressure, smoking history, and cholesterol numbers point to a high chance of trouble.

Even if you don&rsquot meet the above criteria, you may still have a high risk of developing a heart attack or stroke. Docs figure out how high using calculators that estimate your 10-year risk of having heart disease. (If you know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, you can plug them in here.) If your ten-year risk is more than 7.5%, you&rsquod likely be safer with a statin.

Your arteries are filled with calcium.

If the calculator pegs your risk in a lower range, but you&rsquore still concerned (e.g., every one of your male relatives has had a heart attack), you can get a scan to further assess your risk. A CAT scan of your heart, for example, can quantify its calcium burden, or &ldquoscore,&rdquo and very abnormal results indicate a more urgent need to lower your cholesterol.

So what medication should you take?

Statins are, by far, the best and most-studied medications for lowering cholesterol. On average, they lower the risk of heart attack or stroke by 20 to 30 percent.

Although statins have a reputation for causing muscle aches, these concerns have been greatly overblown. In controlled experiments, statins cause cramps only slightly more often than sugar pills. Furthermore, fewer than one in five hundred patients experience actual muscle problems, and even fewer need to stop treatment.

In addition, high statin doses have been associated with a very small increase in the risk of developing diabetes (about 1 in 200), yet most doctors feel that this risk is far outweighed by the protection against heart attacks and strokes. Oh, and you&rsquoll also have to give up grapefruit juice. It raises statin levels in your blood. We&rsquore sure you can handle that.

Any options besides statins?

Statins have such well-documented benefits that other medications are typically used only as second-line treatments &ndash&ndash they&rsquore brought on board because your cholesterol remains high even with optimal diet and a statin, or because you have intolerable side effects from statins. What you might get:

  • A pill called ezetimibe (Zetia) this is the most common alternative. This medication blocks absorption of cholesterol from your intestines and can further lower your LDL level.
  • A newer&mdashand much more expensive&mdashclass of medication known as a PCSK9 inhibitor (alirocumab (Praluent) and evolocumab (Repatha)), may be used if Zetia fails. These medications increase the amount of LDL your liver pulls out of your bloodstream. The effects are profound, as your LDL levels can easily drop by more than 50 percent. The side effects are also minimal. Indeed, if these medications were inexpensive pills, we&rsquod probably recommend them for nearly all adults. Unfortunately, they are still quite pricey and also can only be taken as injections, about once every two or four weeks.

What about omega-3s, fish oil, and niacin?

These target triglycerides, which are also measured in the standard cholesterol panel. Triglycerides aren&rsquot the same as cholesterol, but high levels have also been associated with heart disease and stroke.

Although omega 3 fatty acids (found in fish oil) and niacin can lower triglyceride levels, they haven&rsquot been convincingly shown to lower the risk of heart attack or stroke. Although one recent experiment of a highly-purified fish oil did show some benefits in high-risk individuals, it also had some negative effects (like an increased rate of abnormal heart rhythms). As a result, doctors aren&rsquot totally sold yet.

8 Physical Signs of High Cholesterol You Should Know About

Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is developed naturally in the body. It performs several vital functions like rebuilding walls surrounding the body’s cells and converting basic materials into certain hormones.

You only need a small amount of cholesterol and almost all of them are produced by your body. Most of the cholesterol in your body (approximately 80%) is produced in your liver. The rest of them come from your diet. This kind of dietary cholesterol is present in foods such as eggs, meat, and dairy products.

If you have too much cholesterol in your bloodstream, you have high cholesterol. High cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. For this reason, knowing the cholesterol levels in your blood is quite important to prevent any future heart disease and blockages of blood vessels.

There are two main types of cholesterol you should be aware of:

Most of the LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood. It is mostly unused. Normally, the liver eliminates this extra cholesterol. However, many people have more LDL cholesterol than the liver can handle. So, LDL cholesterol promotes accumulation of cholesterol-rich fatty deposits in arteries. This can cause the arteries to become narrower or blocked, slowing or stopping the blood flow to vital organs, especially the heart and brain. If this affects the heart, it is called coronary artery disease, and it can lead to a heart attack. When the arteries which carry blood to the brain is blocked, then it can lead to a stroke.

In other words, high levels of LDL cholesterol can cause more plaque accumulation and increase the risk of a heart attack, stroke and other diseases. On the other hand, high levels of HDL cholesterol can actually help prevent heart attacks and strokes. HDL gains its “good” name by removing LDL cholesterol from the arteries and tissues and bringing it back to the liver where the excessive LDL cholesterol is broken down.

Risk Factors for High LDL Cholesterol

There are many things that can make you more likely to have high LDL cholesterol levels. These are:

  • a family member with high cholesterol
  • a family member who have had a heart attack or angina before the age of 50 (man) or 60 (woman)
  • having a diet high in animal/saturated fat
  • being a type 2 diabetic
  • being physically inactive
  • age (cholesterol levels rise with age)
  • smoking
  • alcohol consumption
  • weight
  • gender (men have higher cholesterol than women)

Many factors affect the level of your LDL cholesterol. For instance, eating foods that are rich in saturated fats and cholesterol is one of the causes of high level of unhealthy cholesterol. Having an inactive lifestyle and being overweight are other factors that can increase your LDL cholesterol levels.

Sometimes, high cholesterol is an inherited genetic condition which is called familial hypercholesterolemia. This condition significantly increases your risk of developing heart disease at an early age.

Moderate (1-2 drinks a day) alcohol consumption increases HDL cholesterol but it does not decrease LDL cholesterol. So, alcohol intake may increase total cholesterol levels.

Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, liver disease, and kidney disease can also increase cholesterol levels.

Physical Signs of High Cholesterol Levels

Most people who have high cholesterol do not get any symptoms until cholesterol-related atherosclerosis leads to significant narrowing of the arteries and causes damage to their hearts or brains. However, there are several physical symptoms that can help detect high levels of cholesterol.

1. Sore Hands and Feet

If you have high cholesterol, your hands and feet becomes often sore, because blood vessels in your legs and hands become narrower because of cholesterol buildup. This accumulation generally happens continuously and poor blood circulation and nutrient supply to the extremities make your hands and feet sore.

2. Frequent Tingling

Tingling in the hands and feet is a sign of low blood circulation. This occurs when the blood flow becomes slower because of the high levels of cholesterol in the blood. Poor blood circulation causes nerves in your hands and feet not to get enough nutrients and oxygen, which gives you the tingling sensation.

3. Left Chest Pain

Left chest pain is another sign of high cholesterol levels. Even a minimal plaque creation in any part of the body can decrease blood flow. The heart works more to restore normal blood flow and this can cause pain or palpitation. This pain can also be a sign of a heart attack.

4. Frequent Headaches

Frequent headaches in the back of the head might be a result of clogged blood vessels in the area around the head. If this condition is left unchecked, the blood vessels can rupture and lead to a stroke.

5. Fatty Deposits on Eyelids

Cholesterol deposits can be also accumulated on the eyelids, where they are called xanthelasmas. These deposits indicate that you may have high cholesterol levels.

6. Lumps in the Body

Improper fat metabolism leads to formation of fatty moles or deposits called lipomas. Lipomas are formed between the muscle and skin. They can be observed at any age but mostly late 30s and 40s. Generally, they develop in the abdominal region, neck, legs and arms but some people who have high cholesterol may get them in different parts of the body.

7. Depression and Memory Loss

25% of the total cholesterol in the body is found in the brain. Also, the brain contains more cholesterol than any other organ in the body. According to a study, cholesterol metabolism defect is linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative ailments. The study also shows that depression and memory loss can be related to high LDL cholesterol or low HDL cholesterol.

8. Fatigue

If you have high cholesterol levels, you may experience tiredness or fatigue because of the lack of energy you need.


It does not mean that all the people with these signs will have high cholesterol but it is quite important to know the cholesterol levels in your blood to prevent any future heart disease and blockages in blood vessels.

Today, high cholesterol is very easy to diagnose. The only way to know whether your cholesterol levels are too high or not is a blood test. A sample of blood will be taken and it will be analyzed in the laboratory. Your doctor will ask you not to eat or drink anything for at least 12 hours before the test.

  • LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dl
  • HDL cholesterol: 60 mg/dl or higher : less than 150 mg/dl

Your total cholesterol is usually regarded as “borderline high” if it’s between 200 and 239 mg/dl and it is considered “high” if it is above 240 mg/dl.

If your LDL cholesterol is between 130 and 159 mg/dl, it is usually regarded as “borderline high” and it is considered “high” if it is above 160 mg/dl.

If your HDL cholesterol is below 40 mg/dl, it is usually considered “poor”.

Although American Heart Association recommends having your cholesterol levels checked every 5 years if you are a healthy adult over the age of 20, you may need to have your cholesterol checked more frequent if you have an increased risk of high cholesterol due to family history of cholesterol problems or heart attacks at a young age. It is also important to make good lifestyle changes like maintaining an exercise routine, eating a healthy diet, and regularly monitor your cholesterol levels by getting them checked.

7 Things That Cause Plaque Buildup in the Arteries

Plaque buildup in the arteries—called atherosclerosis—causes the arteries to narrow, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke. But you have the power to prevent, stop, and possibly even reverse plaque buildup with lifestyle changes. Find out what causes dangerous buildup and how to correct it.

Although the process is complex and yet to be fully understood, experts believe that atherosclerosis starts slowly when certain factors damage the inner layers of the arteries. Plaque may begin to build in these damaged areas. With time, plaque hardens and begins to narrow the arteries and restrict the normal flow of fresh, oxygen-rich blood. This can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Smoking can damage blood vessels, raise cholesterol levels, and elevate blood pressure—all factors linked to atherosclerosis. To avoid plaque buildup due to smoking, get help to kick the habit once and for all. Even occasional smoking can hurt your arteries.

High LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol is a major contributor to atherosclerosis. It circulates in the blood, carrying cholesterol to your arteries, where plaque is formed. Eating a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fat can help reduce this bad cholesterol.

Consistently high blood pressure can weaken and damage arteries, opening the door to plaque buildup. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so it’s important to get checked. If your blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mm Hg, talk with your doctor about strategies to lower it.

High amounts of blood sugar can greatly increase atherosclerosis. That’s because excess sugar in the blood can eventually contribute to plaque forming in your arteries. If you have blood sugar problems, work with your doctor to keep them under control.

Drinking too much alcohol can raise the level of fats in the blood and lead to high blood pressure. To keep your intake at healthy levels, experts recommend that men consume no more than two drinks a day. Women should limit their intake to one drink a day.

Excess body fat plays a big part in atherosclerosis. Being overweight or obese increases the risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Studies show that losing just 5% to 10% of overall body weight can help.

Lack of physical activity can contribute to, or aggravate, other factors that can cause plaque buildup. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. Experts suggest getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise—like brisk walking—most days.

About The Author

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  7. Diabetes and Cholesterol. University of Illinois.
  8. Who is at Risk for Atherosclerosis? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
  9. What Causes Atherosclerosis? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
  10. Who is at Risk for Heart Disease? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
  11. High Cholesterol -- Why Lower Your LDL? National Institute on Aging.

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