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High Cholesterol and Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

Cross section of peripheral artery with plaque buildup.Cholesterol is a fatty substance that builds up in your bloodstream. High cholesterol can damage arteries. That puts you at higher risk for peripheral arterial disease (PAD). This is a disease of arteries in the legs. If you have PAD, it’s likely that arteries in other parts of your body are diseased, too. That puts you at high risk for heart attack and other heart diseases. Read on to learn how high cholesterol can lead to PAD and affect your health.

What Is Cholesterol?

Your total cholesterol can be measured by a blood test. There are 2 kinds of cholesterol:

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is a particle that carries cholesterol in the bloodstream and deposits it in artery walls. It’s known as “bad cholesterol.”

  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is a particle that picks up excess cholesterol from artery walls. HDL is known as “good cholesterol.”

How Can High Cholesterol Lead to Peripheral Arterial Disease?

Having high cholesterol (or a high LDL level) promotes the buildup of plaque in your arteries. Plaque is a waxy material made up of cholesterol and other particles. When there is too much plaque, the arteries can become narrowed and restrict blood flow. High levels of triglycerides (fats that travel in the blood to be used for energy) also increase the risk for blockage. If high cholesterol isn’t controlled, this makes it more likely for you to develop PAD and other heart problems. But high cholesterol can be controlled with diet changes, exercise, and medication.

What Happens If High Cholesterol Isn’t Controlled?

  • The higher your LDL and triglyceride levels, the higher your risk for heart attack, stroke, and worsened PAD.

  • Even if your LDL is normal, a low HDL puts you at risk for all types of vascular disease.

What Happens If High Cholesterol Is Controlled?

  • Lowering LDL reduces your risk for heart attack, stroke, heart or artery surgery, and worsened PAD.

  • Raising HDL may also help lower these risks.

Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell medical illustration team.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Last Review Date: 3/24/2014
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