High cholesterol and chronic inflammation can contribute to plaque buildup and narrowing of the arteries, which increases the risk of blood clots.
An important part of the heart health assessment is the cholesterol screening, which is part of your annual physical. High cholesterol (specifically certain blood cholesterol levels, such as LDL) has been linked to cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks and strokes, with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting that cardiovascular disease is responsible for around 32% of deaths worldwide in 2019.
What most people don’t realize is that thrombosis, a medical term for the formation of blood clots, is often the underlying cause of heart attack and stroke. A blood clot is a partially solid collection of blood that can form in your arteries or veins, blocking blood flow to that area. Depending on where the clot forms, it can lead to a heart attack, stroke, deep vein thrombosis, or pulmonary embolism.
How can high cholesterol cause blood clots?
High cholesterol is linked to the formation of blood clots in several ways. A high level of specific cholesterol is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis, ie the accumulation of fatty plaques on and in the walls of the arteries. Plaques are made up of cholesterol, fats, cellular waste, calcium and fibrin (which causes blood to clot). As they continue to grow, the fatty plaques can narrow the arteries and limit the blood supply to your vital organs. This can cause symptoms, such as angina, which is caused by reduced blood supply to the heart and often manifests as chest pain during exertion.
Reduced blood supply to the legs can also lead to leg pain during exertion, a condition known as intermittent claudication. This condition is usually a symptom of peripheral arterial disease, a narrowing of the arteries in the limbs.
From cholesterol to clot formation
As for the link between high cholesterol and the formation of blood clots, the danger comes from the rupture of one of these plaques. When you have high cholesterol levels, these cholesterol particles can lodge in the walls of the artery and cause damage. The formation of plaque can cause the walls of the artery to bulge, weakening them. More and more researchers believe that if certain cholesterol levels are elevated, they are associated with an increased risk of blood clots. The root cause could be chronic inflammation (due to unhealthy lifestyle factors and behaviors such as diet, inactivity, and stress.
If one of these plaques tears or ruptures, the fatty material it contains is exposed to blood, triggering the formation of a clot. The clot can quickly grow until it blocks the artery and prevents normal blood flow. Blockage of the arteries of the heart leads to a heart attack, while blockage of the arteries of the brain leads to a stroke. Other data suggests that high cholesterol can also cause blood clots to form in the veins, which is called venous thromboembolism. Depending on where the clot forms, it can lead to deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism.
How to reduce the risk of blood clots forming?
Managing your cholesterol is an important part of keeping your heart healthy. The first step is regular cholesterol screening. All adults should know their cholesterol level[anditssignificanceinrelationtotheiroverallcardiovascularriskIfyouhavehighcholesterolyourdoctorwilloftenrecommendlifestylechangessuchasdietandexercisetoreduceyourcholesterollevelsandsystemicinflammation[etsasignificationparrapportàleurrisquecardiovasculaireglobalSivousavezuntauxdecholestérolélevévotremédecinvousrecommanderasouventdemodifiervotremodedevieparexempleenadoptantunrégimealimentaireetenfaisantdel’exerciceafinderéduirevotretauxdecholestéroletl’inflammationsystémique
If you have high cholesterol, you should also be very vigilant about the risk factors in your life, because cholesterol is only one of the main risk factors associated with atherosclerosis. Other manageable risk factors, which are strongly related to community and lifestyle choices and behaviors, are:
– Hypertension (high blood pressure)
When it comes to managing your cholesterol, it’s important to be proactive because the longer you have high levels, the higher your risk of developing atherosclerosis. This process begins at a very early age. If we want to maximize the effect of the intervention, then these lifestyle changes have to start very early, because by the time we reach 30 or 40, these plaques have already formed in the vessel walls. Work with your doctor to develop a plan that will best manage these risk factors and reduce your risk of atherosclerosis and blood clots.