High blood cholesterol is a condition that, if not checked, can lead to serious disease. Learn more about high blood cholesterol and what you can do about this condition.
Cholesterol and Its Roles
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is normally produced in the human body. It is needed to form cell walls and to manufacture many hormones. Cholesterol travels in the blood linked to either a low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or a high-density lipoprotein (HDL):
- LDL takes cholesterol to various parts of the body for its functions. LDL-cholesterol is known as the 'bad' cholesterol, because a high level of it is associated with higher risk of heart disease.
- HDL takes excess cholesterol in blood to the liver to be broken down and excreted. HDL-cholesterol is the 'good' cholesterol because a high level of it is associated with lower risk of hear disease.
Problems start if your total blood cholesterol level is continually high, with a larger proportion of it being LDL-cholesterol. Then, excess cholesterol cannot be excreted fast enough and deposits in artery walls, a process known as atherosclerosis (thickening of the walls of arteries). This can affect any artery, but has the most serious effects in arteries of the heart muscle, brain and kidneys.
- Heart disease, resulting in angina (chest pain due to temporary insufficient blood flow to the heart muscle), heart attack (complete blockage of blood flow to the heart muscle), or death.
- Stroke (blockage of blood flow to part of the brain).
- Kidney damage, high blood pressure.