A patient with high blood cholesterol is likely to develop other conditions that affect the heart and vascular system. For example, someone with high blood cholesterol is likely to develop high blood pressure as well. The likelihood of high cholesterol-related conditions can be reduced with proper treatment. In this article, learn more about how high cholesterol affects your body and what you can do to prevent future problems.

Cholesterol and the Body

The word “cholesterol” often gets a bum rap. Cholesterol earns the blame for a lot of physical ills, but it turns out that your body needs cholesterol. In fact, your body naturally produces cholesterol because it requires this waxy substance for many functions. However, as with so many things in life, too much cholesterol can be a bad thing.

Cholesterol comes in two types: “good” and “bad.” High-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as “good” cholesterol, can reduce your risk of heart attacks, rid your body of bad cholesterol, and lower your stroke risk. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol, high levels increase your risk for several conditions and diseases if it is not diagnosed, treated, and managed properly.

In an ideal world, the levels of HDL and LDL would be beneficial—HDL would help pick up remaining pieces of LDL and remove them without harm to the body. However, when the balance is off, HDL cannot keep up, and waxy plaque begins to build in the body’s arteries.

High Cholesterol and Americans

In America today, more than 73.5 million adults has bad cholesterol and less than half of these adults are getting treatment.

These numbers have real-world consequences. When left untreated, high cholesterol can cause real damage to your body. Having high LDL levels puts you at a greater risk for developing certain conditions. In some cases, the factors that contribute to high cholesterol also contribute to other conditions. In other cases, high cholesterol itself is a risk factor for another condition.

Conditions Related to High Cholesterol

The following section lists out some related conditions people with high cholesterol may be more likely to develop.

Coronary Heart Disease

One of the biggest concerns for people with high cholesterol is coronary heart disease (CHD). This is because cholesterol greatly impacts your heart’s health. High blood LDL levels increase your risk of heart disease. Plaque buildup hardens the arteries and eventually narrows the arteries. This reduces blood follow to and from the heart. If the narrowed arteries or vessels close completely or become blocked, you will suffer chest pain or possibly a heart attack. Too little HDL cholesterol can also increase your risk for CHD.

Peripheral Arterial Disease

Around your heart, arteries that have plaque buildup can cut off blood supply to your heart. The heart is not the only part of the body that can be affected by plaque buildup, however. When plaque buildup on artery walls occurs elsewhere in the body, it can lead to peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD is most common in the arteries that lead to the legs and feet. If left untreated, PAD can cause pain, numbness, and eventually tissue death.


A stroke occurs when cholesterol plaque narrows and eventually blocks the vessels and arteries in your brain. Blood vessels in the brain are responsible for bringing oxygen and nutrients to your brain. When flow is cut off, the brain does not receive enough oxygen and blood, causing brain cells to die.


High blood cholesterol levels are one of the leading causes of hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Too much bad cholesterol floating in your blood can cause plaque buildups in your arteries. As the blockages build, they restrict blood flow. In order to overcome this restricted blood flow, your heart has to work harder and must increase the pressure it uses to pump blood efficiently. As a result, your blood pressure can quickly become too high.

Type 2 Diabetes

People with diabetes must monitor their cholesterol levels carefully. This is because diabetes has the ability to lower levels of good cholesterol and increase levels of bad cholesterol. Subsequently, the higher levels of LDL increase your risk for other conditions, including stroke, coronary heart disease, and hypertension.

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Doctor’s Whiteboard: “High Cholesterol 101”

Cholesterol, and its role in the body, is one of the most misunderstood topics in the world of healthcare. You’ve likely read or watched numerous news reports about the dangers of cholesterol in your diet and how it can lead to heart disease. But that’s far from the whole story.

Cholesterol is a crucial building block of every cell in your body. It’s so important that your liver actually produces most of the cholesterol that you’ll ever need, regardless of your diet.

There are two main types of cholesterol. LDL, or low-density, cholesterol particles are a combination of fat and protein that travel through your bloodstream and deliver cholesterol to the tissues that need it, such as nerve cells. HDL, or high-density, cholesterol particles contain a much higher ratio of protein to fat, and their function is to scour the bloodstream, vacuuming up excess bits of cholesterol and returning those to the liver. HDL also helps keep the blood vessels and arteries clear, and that’s why it’s often referred to as “good” cholesterol.

Cholesterol can become dangerous when your body has too much LDL or “bad” cholesterol. These fatty particles can accumulate inside of blood vessels and form clogs, or plaques, which can lead to a heart attack.

For many people, it’s possible to control cholesterol levels by making changes to their diet, like avoiding saturated fats, and getting more exercise. However, since the liver produces roughly 75 percent of a person’s total cholesterol, lifestyle changes are not always effective. 

One of the key medications to treat high cholesterol is a class of drugs called statins. Statins work to block the production of cholesterol in the liver and have been shown to bring down LDL levels, boost HDL levels, and lower the risk of developing heart disease.

Statins, like any medication, have side effects and may interact with treatments for related conditions. People who are taking other medications, such as blood thinners, may be at risk for developing drug interaction side effects. Many medications are metabolized, or broken down, in the liver. For some people with elevated cholesterol, it sometimes makes sense to use a statin that breaks down outside of the liver where there is less of a chance for dangerous side effects.

The good news about cholesterol is that through a combination of diet, exercise, and working with your doctor, it’s possible to dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease. If you’d like to learn more about treating high cholesterol, take a look at the information we have here at Healthline or make an appointment with your doctor.