High cholesterol increases the risk of other conditions, depending on which blood vessels are narrowed or blocked. Some of these diseases include:
Coronary heart disease
The main risk associated with high cholesterol is coronary heart disease (CHD). Your blood cholesterol level has a lot to do with your chances of getting heart disease. If your cholesterol is too high, it builds up on the walls of your arteries. Over time, this buildup is known as atherosclerosis. This condition causes arteries to become narrowed, and the narrowed blood vessels reduce blood flow to the heart. This can result in angina (chest pain) from not enough blood flow getting to the heart, or a heart attack in cases when a blood vessel is blocked completely and the heart muscle begins to die.
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain becomes blocked or bursts. A stroke can result if the blood supply to the brain is reduced. When stroke occurs, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it starts to die.
High cholesterol also has been linked to peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which refers to diseases of blood vessels that are outside the heart and brain. In PAD, fatty deposits build up along artery walls and affect blood circulation, mainly in arteries leading to the legs and feet. The arteries of the kidney can also be affected.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is another disease linked to high cholesterol because diabetes can affect the different cholesterol levels. Even if blood sugar control is good, people with diabetes tend to have increased triglycerides, decreased high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and sometimes increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL). This increases the likelihood of developing atherosclerosis.
High blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol also are linked. When the arteries become hardened and narrowed with cholesterol plaque and calcium (atherosclerosis), the heart has to strain much harder to pump blood through them. As a result, blood pressure becomes abnormally high.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/28/2020.