Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatlike substance that the body needs to function normally. Cholesterol is naturally present in cell walls or membranes everywhere in the body, including the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines, and heart.
The body uses cholesterol to produce many hormones, vitamin D, and the bile
acids that help to digest fat. It takes only a small amount of cholesterol in
the blood to meet these needs. If a person has too much cholesterol in the
bloodstream, the excess may be deposited in arteries, including the coronary
arteries of the heart, the carotid arteries to the brain, and the arteries that supply
blood to the legs. Cholesterol deposits are a component of the plaques that cause narrowing and blockage of the arteries, producing signs and symptoms originating from the particular part of the body that has decreased blood supply.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is caused by cholesterol and fat being deposited in the walls of the arteries that supply nutrients and oxygen to
the heart. Like any muscle, the heart needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients, which are carried to it by the blood in the coronary arteries. Narrowing of the arteries decreases that supply and can cause angina (chest pain) when the heart muscle does not receive enough oxygen. Cholesterol plaques can rupture, resulting in a
blood clot formation that completely blocks the artery, stopping all blood flow and causing a heart attack, in which heart muscle cells die from lack of oxygen and nutrients.
Who has high cholesterol?
Throughout the world, blood cholesterol levels vary widely. Generally, people who live in countries where
blood cholesterol levels are lower, such as Japan, have lower rates of heart
disease. Countries with very high cholesterol levels, such as Finland, also have
very high rates of coronary heart disease. However, some populations with
similar total cholesterol levels have very different heart disease rates,
suggesting that other factors also influence risk for coronary heart
High cholesterol is more common in men younger than
55 years and in women older than 55 years.
While there are generally no signs or symptoms of elevated cholesterol levels during childhood, adults may have small fat deposits on their skin, enlargement of the liver and spleen, and ultimately heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.