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Cholesterol is a type of fat made by the body, essential for good health. Cholesterol is an ingredient of every cell in the body.

However, a high cholesterol level in the blood called hypercholesterolemia is associated with an increased risk of various problems. Most common problems are coronary heart disease and stroke.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy fat particle that circulates through blood, the most common steroid in the body. Cholesterol is a building block of cell membranes and essential in the formation of bile, which aids in the digestion of fats, vitamin D, and other steroids and hormones. The liver produces most of the cholesterol the body needs, but many popular foods contain cholesterol and substances used by the liver to produce cholesterol. A high intake of these foods can increase the level of cholesterol in the blood leading to condition called hypercholesterolemia.

What is hypercholesterolemia?

High cholesterol levels, or hypercholesterolemia, can cause the formation and accumulation of plaque deposits in the arteries. Plaque is composed of cholesterol, other fatty substances, fibrous tissue, and calcium, so when it builds up in the arteries, it results in atherosclerosis, or coronary heart disease. Atherosclerosis can lead to plaque ruptures and blockages in the arteries, which increase the risk of serious conditions, such as heart attacks, stroke circulation problems, and death. The development of plaques and blockages in the arteries involves several steps, but it begins when the innermost lining of the arteries (endothelium) is damaged. Then cholesterol particles deposit into the damaged wall and form plaques. After this, more cholesterol and other substances incorporate into the plaque and it grows, narrowing the artery. The problem is, plaque deposits can grow large enough to interfere with the blood flow through the artery, which results in blockage.

When coronary arteries (the arteries supplying the heart with blood) are blocked, chest pain such as angina may occur. When arteries in the legs are blocked, leg pain or cramping may occur, and when arteries supplying the brain with blood are blocked, a stroke may occur. If a plaque ruptures or tears, a blood clot may develop on top of it.

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