Cholesterol is important for a variety of different functions. Some of these functions include making hormones, serving as a building block in cell walls, and the metabolism of some vitamins. However, persistently high cholesterol can have detrimental effects on your health and is a risk factor for a disease process called atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis involves the buildup of cholesterol, fats, and calcium with other substances inside your arteries. This includes the blood vessels that provide blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your entire body. As a result, these important vessels will narrow and harden, reducing or completely blocking blood flow. This can ultimately lead to pain, reduced function, and even death.
Severe atherosclerosis or a blood clot associated with a plaque will lead to a stroke or heart attack and can be fatal. The development of atherosclerosis in other arteries of the body may not be as life-threatening, but it can affect your quality of life.The symptoms of atherosclerosis affecting the heart include chest pain, sometimes radiating to the arms, shoulders, and jaw. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, rapid weight gain, and lower extremity swelling, which may be a sign of heart failure.
Atherosclerosis affecting the arteries to the brain may lead to a variety of non-specific symptoms like confusion and localized weakness or paralysis to one or several extremities. It can also cause difficulty speaking, which may be a sign of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). We differentiate between these by the duration and intensity of your neurological symptoms