Three Whole-Body Health Impacts of High Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that the body needs to build healthy cells. It can be found in your blood and is naturally made by your liver. Your body makes the amount of cholesterol it needs to function, but you also get cholesterol from the foods you eat. Consuming too much dietary cholesterol can lead to high cholesterol and several health problems and complications, some of which are quite serious.
High cholesterol causes an excessive buildup of fatty deposit in your arteries, making it harder for your blood to flow throughout your body. High cholesterol is most often caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as eating a poor diet, not getting enough exercise, and engaging in unhealthy habits like smoking cigarettes.
Complications of High Cholesterol
In addition to these high cholesterol complications, consistently and uncontrolled cholesterol levels can have a devastating impact throughout the entire body. Here are three of the most overlooked complications of high cholesterol.
Increased risk of gallstones
Cholesterol is an essential element of a digestive substance in your gallbladder known as bile. Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located just below your liver on the right side of your abdomen.
Bile helps your body break down dietary fats and absorb fat-soluble vitamins. High cholesterol doesn’t just get into your blood, but your bile too. The extra cholesterol in bile can combine with salt, calcium, and other minerals to form hard crystals that eventually turn into gallstones.
Symptoms of Gallstones
Gallstones can range from the side of a fleck of sand to as large as a golf ball. You might only develop one gallstone at a time or develop several at the same time. Depending on their size, location, and number, gallstones may or may not cause any symptoms. If you do get symptoms, they can include:
- Sudden, intense pain in the upper right part of your stomach
- Sudden, intense pain in the centre of your stomach
- Nausea or being sick
- Pain in your right shoulder
- Pain between your shoulder blades
If your gallstones don’t cause any symptoms, you typically won’t require any kind of treatment. However, if you do experience symptoms from gallstones, you most likely will need to have your gallbladder removed.
Having your gallbladder removed shouldn’t have any long-term health effects since it’s an organ you can live without. While your body adjusts to having your gallbladder removed, you may have gastrointestinal problems. A low-fat diet should help reduce these symptoms. About 90% of people who undergo this surgery are eventually able to go back to eating the way they used to.
Increased Risk of Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition that narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to the arms and legs. Without enough blood flow, your arms and legs won’t be able to function the way they’re supposed to. High cholesterol can cause PAD because the arteries have become narrowed from buildup related to high cholesterol levels.
Some people don’t experience any noticeable symptoms with PAD, whereas others might experience:
- Pain and cramping in the legs and arms
- Leg and arm numbness
- Pain and cramping after using your arms
- Difficulty walking
- No pulse in the legs and feet
- Low pulse in the legs or feet
- Cramping after physical activity
- Skin on the legs that appear shiny
- Skin colour changes on the legs
- Coldness in the lower leg or foot
- Leg and foot sores that are slow to heal
- Erectile dysfunction
If the disease becomes worse, you may start experiencing pain even when you aren’t using your extremities such as when you’re lying down, resting, or sitting.
Increased Risk of Stroke
A stroke is a serious medical event that happens when a blood vessel travelling to the brain bursts (haemorrhagic stroke) or is blocked by a clot (ischemic stroke). This prevents nutrients and oxygen from reaching the brain which results in the death of cells in that part of the brain.
People with high cholesterol are more likely to experience ischemic strokes because their arteries are narrowed and more likely to be clogged.
Signs and symptoms of stroke include:
- Slurred speech
- Paralysis in the face, arm, or leg (usually on one side of the body)
- Trouble understanding what people are telling you
- A drooping mouth
- Blurred or obscured vision
- Trouble walking
- Nausea and vomiting
It’s important to get medical treatment right away when a stroke occurs because the brain cells will begin to die in minutes. The sooner you get treatment, the less likely it’ll be that the patient will suffer permanent brain damage or death.
Depending on how long the brain is deprived of blood flow and which part of the brain is affected, stroke survivors may suffer permanent or temporary disabilities like:
- Paralysis on one side of the body
- Difficulty talking, swallowing, and eating
- Aphasia and trouble communicating
- Memory loss and confusion
- Emotional disorders
- Pain and tingling
High Cholesterol Prevention and Treatment
The good news is that most of these high cholesterol problems can be prevented. Leading a healthier lifestyle will reduce your risk of several health conditions including high cholesterol. To prevent high cholesterol, you should eat a balanced diet that is full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low on salt, fats, and processed foods. Moderate exercise can also have a huge impact so try to stay as active as possible. Avoiding vices like cigarettes and excessive alcohol will also help.
Following a healthier lifestyle can also help keep your cholesterol in control if you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol. You may also need to take cholesterol medications to manage the condition.
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