February is American Heart Month, a perfect time to remind you of cholesterol's role in your cardiovascular health. While our bodies need cholesterol for various functions, an excess of certain types can pose significant health risks, including but not limited to the heart.
Our team at Bethel Family Medicine in Brockton, Massachusetts, provides comprehensive primary care services to people of all ages, infancy through adulthood. One of our priorities is helping our patients take an active role in preventing chronic disease when possible.
We’re happy to provide information about what elevated cholesterol can do to the body and why keeping it in check is crucial.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in every cell of the body and vital in building cell membranes, producing hormones, and aiding fat digestion.
It’s primarily produced by the liver but also obtained through the foods we eat. The two main types of cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL cholesterol is often referred to as bad cholesterol because high levels can lead to plaque buildup in arteries. On the other hand, HDL cholesterol is considered good cholesterol as it helps process and remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.
The impact of high cholesterol on the body
Elevated LDL cholesterol can affect the body in many ways, including:
One of the primary dangers of high cholesterol is atherosclerosis. This disease occurs when LDL cholesterol accumulates on the walls of arteries, forming plaques that can narrow and harden the arteries over time.
Atherosclerosis is often linked with an increased risk of plaque formation in the coronary arteries, resulting in heart attacks. However, it can cause problems in any artery, including those that supply blood to your kidneys, brain, arms, and legs.
High cholesterol is a significant risk factor for stroke. The buildup in the coronary arteries increases the likelihood of plaques that can rupture and form blood clots. A clot can block blood flow to the brain, resulting in a stroke.
Notably, the carotid arteries supplying blood to the brain are also prone to narrowing due to plaque buildup, eventually resulting in a stroke if left untreated.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
PAD occurs when plaque buildup narrows the arteries that supply blood to the extremities, most often in the legs and feet. That can lead to pain, numbness, and poor circulation in the legs, increasing the risk of skin infections, reduced mobility, and other health complications.
Extremely high levels of triglycerides, a type of blood fat related to cholesterol, can lead to pancreatitis — inflammation of the pancreas. This condition is painful and can have severe consequences for digestive function.
Elevated cholesterol levels can contribute to the formation of gallstones, hard particles that develop in the gallbladder. Gallstones can cause significant pain and may require surgery.
Treating high cholesterol
Fortunately, regular cholesterol checks, a healthy diet, routine exercise, and other lifestyle modifications can effectively manage or prevent high cholesterol.
To get you started, our services include a 12-week weight loss and nutrition program that provides lifelong benefits. Depending on lab results, your provider may also recommend medication to help bring your cholesterol under control.
Schedule an evaluation at Bethel Family Medicine today for outstanding medical care that includes cholesterol management.