Heart Disease Home > Cholesterol and Heart Attack
High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease and heart attacks. Having too much cholesterol in the blood causes plaque to build up on artery walls. Plaque buildup (also known as atherosclerosis) can narrow or block blood vessels, leading to a heart attack. By lowering your cholesterol, you can reduce your chances of having a heart attack.
High cholesterol affects 40 million Americans and is one of the risk factors for developing heart disease and having a heart attack. Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. Each year, more than a million Americans have heart attacks; about a half million people die from heart disease.
High cholesterol levels in the blood do not cause problems over days, weeks, or months. High cholesterol levels cause problems over many years.
If your levels of cholesterol are too high, low density lipoproteins (LDLs) will leave extra cholesterol in the blood. If the high density lipoproteins (HDLs) cannot pick up all of this cholesterol, it will begin to build up on your artery walls, along with other fats and debris -- this buildup is called plaque. Over time, plaque can narrow the blood vessels, and sometimes this buildup may even block your blood vessels completely. Plaque buildup on your blood vessel walls is called atherosclerosis.
Nobody knows why this buildup develops, but a narrowed or blocked blood vessel can prevent blood from getting to where it needs to go. Without blood, tissues will die.
For example, if the blocked vessel is in your brain, it can cause a stroke. Blockages can also happen in the blood vessels, called the coronary arteries, that carry blood to the heart muscle. This blockage process is called coronary heart disease, and the end result can be a heart attack or angina (chest pain).
Atherosclerosis can affect all of your organ systems; however, the organ most seriously affected by both high cholesterol and atherosclerosis is the heart.