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Blog: Ways Cholesterol Affects Your Heart

Ways Cholesterol Affects Your Heart

About 94 million American adults have high cholesterol, placing them at risk of life-threatening medical problems, like heart disease. But while most of us know that elevated levels of cholesterol are bad for the heart, many people don’t know how the two are linked.

With practice locations in Glendale, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Anthem, Avondale, and Black Canyon City, Arizona, our team at Phoenix Heart, PLLC, helps patients understand their cholesterol levels and how they affect heart health. Here’s what we want you to know.

Facts about cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your body needs to maintain cell health, synthesize vitamins and hormones, and perform other important functions. The liver makes almost all the cholesterol the body needs, but we do get some cholesterol from the foods we eat — mostly animal products and fats.

The body needs — and uses — a certain amount of cholesterol every day. When we have too much cholesterol, the excess travels in the bloodstream where it can combine with other substances to form sticky plaques. These plaques adhere to the walls of the arteries, causing a condition called atherosclerosis (“hardening” of the arteries). 

There are different types of cholesterol. Two of the best-known types are high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). 

LDL has become known as “bad” cholesterol because it’s associated with plaque formation. However, we do need some LDL to stay healthy. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol because it helps remove LDL from your bloodstream.

Cholesterol and your heart

When plaques build up in your arteries, they interfere with circulation and make the arteries less flexible. Over time, atherosclerosis can lead to very serious medical problems, including heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

When your arteries are narrowed due to plaque, your heart must work harder to keep blood circulating. That excess strain increases your risks of heart disease and heart attack. If a plaque becomes unstable and breaks free of the artery wall, it can travel to other areas of your body, causing ischemia — decreased blood flow that can lead to tissue death. 

While high cholesterol significantly increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, your heart isn’t the only organ that’s affected. By interfering with circulation and making it harder for blood to move, high cholesterol also significantly increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. In turn, hypertension can damage your heart, your kidneys, your eyes, your brain, and other organs and tissues.

Treating high cholesterol

High cholesterol can have devastating effects on your health. Yet on its own, it doesn’t cause any telltale symptoms. Fortunately, cholesterol can be measured with a simple blood test. If your test reveals that you have high cholesterol, our team may recommend other tests and screenings for heart disease or other medical problems. 

Treatment focuses on lowering unhealthy cholesterol levels and typically involves lifestyle changes, like eating healthier and being more active. If lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough, we may recommend medicine to help manage cholesterol levels. Regular blood tests help keep an eye on your cholesterol levels so adjustments can be made to your treatment plan when needed.

Resolve to make heart health a priority

New Year’s is a time for resolutions, and that means it’s a great time to commit yourself to a healthier heart. To learn more about your heart-related risks or to schedule a cardiovascular evaluation, book an appointment online or over the phone with the team at Phoenix Heart today.

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