What does cholesterol do to the circulatory system?

Written by chris sherwood
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What does cholesterol do to the circulatory system?

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According to the American Heart Association, approximately 80 million Americans suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease. In 2005, more than 864,000 people lost their lives to the disease. Cardiovascular disease is mostly caused by atherosclerosis, a disease that largely involves cholesterol intake and the circulatory system.


Cholesterol is a type of waxy fat this is found in all types of animal tissue. When consumed in high amounts, cholesterol can start to do serious damage to the blood vessels of the cardiovascular system. According to the American Heart Association, 98.6 million Americans have total cholesterol values of the blood above 200 mg/dl or higher. Of those, 34.4 million have cholesterol levels above 240 mg/dl. At these levels, cholesterol begins to take its toll on the circulatory system.


Cholesterol does most of its damage through blocking the blood vessels of the circulatory system, which are made up of your veins, arteries and capillaries. As cholesterol enters the blood, it has the ability to cling to the walls of blood vessels, especially arteries. The lipids in the cholesterol begin to from a plaque causing calcification of the vessels walls. Over time this causes the vessels to either severely restrict the blood flow through the vessel, or blocks the vessel completely.


As a blood vessel becomes blocked with cholesterol, the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the partially blocked vessel. As this occurs, it causes an increase in blood pressure within the circulatory system. At first the increase in blood pressure does not do much damage; However, over time, the extra stress on the blood vessel walls causes the vessels to lose their elasticity and become hard. This is called arteriolosclerosis.

Heart Attack

If allowed to completely block the blood vessel, cholesterol plaque may also cause a heart attack. Once the plaque has completely blocked the vessel, oxygen rich blood is no longer able to reach the heart. The heart quickly becomes starved of oxygen, and heart muscle cells begin to die. This results in a heart attack.


Cholesterol build-up may also cause a stroke to occur. Just like with the heart, when a blood vessel that supplies the brain with blood becomes blocked with cholesterol plaque, the supply of oxygen is also cut off. This results in a type of stroke called a transient ischemic attack.

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