Impact of High Cholesterol on Vascular Health

Did you know that September is National Cholesterol Education Month? It’s a great time to have your cholesterol levels checked and learn more about the effects high cholesterol can have on your body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “More than 102 million American Adults (20 years or older) have total cholesterol levels at or above 200 mg/dL, which is above healthy levels. More than 35 million of these people have levels of 240 mg/dL or higher, which puts them at high risk for heart disease.”

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance in your blood that the body needs to function. However, the body creates all the cholesterol it needs to function, so when cholesterol is consumed from other sources like meat and full-fat dairy products, it can increase your overall cholesterol levels.

There are two primary types of cholesterol, LDL and HDL. LDL cholesterol is often referred to as bad cholesterol. When your body has too much LDL cholesterol, it can begin to build up in your arteries, restricting the blood flow. HDL cholesterol is known as good cholesterol. Unlike LDL cholesterol, you want higher levels of HDL cholesterol in your blood because it helps to fight the effects of LDL cholesterol.

While each patient should be evaluated by their health care provider, the CDC considers the following cholesterol levels desirable.

  • Total cholesterol: Less than 170 mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol: Less than 110 mg/dL
  • HDL cholesterol: 35 mg/dL or higher
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL

How does high cholesterol impact your vascular health?

High cholesterol is a risk factor for two common vascular conditions, peripheral artery disease and carotid artery disease. Peripheral artery disease occurs when fatty deposits or plaque build up inside the vessels that carry blood to the legs and feet. When severe, it can lead to disability or the loss of foot or leg to amputation. It is a common condition; one in every 20 Americans over the age of 50 has peripheral artery disease.

Carotid artery disease occurs when plaque builds up inside the carotid arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the head and neck. This plaque buildup causes the arteries to become stiff and narrow, making it difficult for the blood to flow normally. On some occasions, small clots can form in the artery. If these clots break off and travel to the brain, they can cause a stroke. According to the Society for Vascular Surgery, carotid artery disease is responsible for up to one-third of all strokes.

What steps can you take to lower your cholesterol?

If you have high cholesterol, we recommend that you work with your physician to create a plan to help lower it. Depending on your unique situation, your doctor may prescribe medication to help lower your cholesterol. Your doctor may also ask you to implement the following American Heart Association recommended lifestyle changes.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Become more physically active
  • Quit smoking
  • Lose weight