High Cholesterol Effects on the Body

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao · Updated Jul 15, 2022

    High Cholesterol Effects on the Body

    Cholesterol is essential to the body since it is responsible for building healthy cells. However, having high levels of cholesterol can trigger multiple health problems. High cholesterol’s effects on the body range from mild to most severe, and although some complications are reversible, others may last for a lifetime if left untreated. Here’s what you need to know.

    High cholesterol levels

    High cholesterol occurs when there’s too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol in the blood, which sets off the development of fatty deposits in the blood vessels. When fat continuously builds up in the blood vessels, it restricts blood flow in the arteries, causing damage over time.

    Usually, high cholesterol is manageable. It requires certain lifestyle changes, medications, and treatments for a person with high cholesterol to slowly get back in shape. However, people with uncontrolled cholesterol levels must be closely monitored, as they have a greater risk of acquiring different complications.

    High cholesterol symptoms

    People with high cholesterol do not usually exhibit any warning signs or symptoms. Normally, people with this condition only become aware of it after a series of laboratory tests and consultations.

    In some cases, the occurrence of high cholesterol is only identified once a person suffers from a heart attack or a stroke. A normal and healthy cholesterol level in adults is about 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), while high cholesterol is about 240 mg/dL and above.

    Doctors recommend that people with persistent high blood pressure, those who are overweight, obese, heavy smokers, and have a family history, must check their cholesterol regularly as they are more likely to experience high cholesterol than others.

    High cholesterol effects on the body

    Most people don’t know that, aside from the heart, high cholesterol can also pose negative effects on other organs in the body. Here are some high cholesterol effects on the body we all should know about

    The heart (circulatory system)

    The most common complication of high cholesterol concerns the heart and the circulatory system.

    When fatty deposits form in the arteries, it can cause blockage and affect the arteries’ flexibility. This condition is atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries.

    Atherosclerosis can lead to more serious cardiovascular problems such as coronary heart disease (narrowing of the arteries). Due to the narrowing of the arteries, there will be a reduction in blood flow to the heart, resulting in chest pain or angina.

    When angina persists, it can completely restrict blood flow in the heart, which is an early sign of a possible heart attack or heart failure.

    The brain (nervous system)

    Did you know that 25% of the body’s cholesterol is found in the brain? Also, the brain makes its own cholesterol rather than taking up the cholesterol produced by the liver.

    Cholesterol is one of the most important elements the brain needs to function well. It functions by making sure that neurons can communicate and exchange electric signals with one another.

    But, just like any other parts of the body, too much cholesterol can harm the brain and entire nervous system. An overabundance of cholesterol in the arteries leading to the brain can result in stroke or an abrupt obstruction of blood supply in the brain.

    Interruption of blood flow in the brain could cause serious damage, which can affect a person’s cognitive skills, movement skills, speech, and other developmental and physical skills.

    According to another study from 2011, high cholesterol is highly associated with the brain plaques that trigger Alzheimer’s disease. In conclusion, people with high cholesterol are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s in the future.

    Further research in the future is essential to provide more evidence of the relationship between high cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease.

    The gut (digestive system)

    Cholesterol is an important factor in the synthesis of bile acids—a digestive fluid that helps the gut break down food and absorb nutrients. On the other hand, excess cholesterol in the bile leads to the formation of crystals and the development of gallstones.

    Gallstones are extremely painful, especially in the abdomen and back region. It might also set off serious complications, like pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and gallbladder cancer.

    The eyes (ocular system)

    High cholesterol can also have damaging effects on your eyes and vision. According to a study in the JAMA Ophthalmology journal, a person with high levels of cholesterol has a higher risk of having primary open-angle glaucoma or visual field loss. If a plaque blocks one of the small arteries within the eye, it is known as a Hollenhorst plaque and can cause permanent blindness due to lack of blood flow to the retina.

    People under the age of 45 with high cholesterol might develop a bluish ring (arcus senilis) around their cornea. Commonly, arcus senilis will appear as you age, but certain individuals might get them earlier due to cholesterol deposits in the eyes.

    It is best to consult a doctor for the right diagnosis since arcus senilis at a younger age does not always mean that a person has high cholesterol. Arcus senilis is generally harmless and does not pose any complications, as it is a normal part of aging.

    However, other people opt for surgery to remove them for aesthetic purposes.

    The skin (integumentary system)

    Eruptive xanthomatosis can develop in people with uncontrolled diabetes as their triglyceride and cholesterol are consistently very high. People with this rare skin condition appear to have small yellow bumps with red halos on their bodies.

    The excess fat from the blood collects under the skin, resulting in the formation of these bumps. These bumps will usually heal on their own after a few weeks when cholesterol levels go down.

    Key takeaways

    High cholesterol effects on the body vary from person to person. If people with high cholesterol addressed their condition right away, the negative effects mentioned above would less likely occur. However, if cholesterol levels are not managed properly, then it will heighten a person’s risk of developing those complications in the future.

    Learn more about Cholesterol, here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    John Paul Abrina, MD

    Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

    Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao · Updated Jul 15, 2022