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Most of us know that high cholesterol is something to be cautious about. But how exactly do high levels of this substance work against us? As it turns out, the effects of high cholesterol go far beyond physical impacts; studies are finding adverse effects on the brain as well.

Cholesterol isn't all bad. It helps perform many essential duties, from digestion to hormone production. However, like most things in life, a healthy balance is key. Keeping your cholesterol levels in check can help ensure a healthier mind and body overall.

Gallstones

Cholesterol plays a key role in helping your digestive system run smoothly. One of its most essential functions is producing bile, a substance that aids in the breaking down of food. Bile is also crucial for ensuring that your intestines absorb nutrients properly.

However, bile with a high concentration of cholesterol can do more harm than good. When your digestive system has more cholesterol than it knows what to do with, it will turn the excess into crystals. These crystals eventually form gallstones, which are hardened deposits of bile that develop inside the gallbladder. Gallstones can eventually create a blockage in the pancreas, which may cause your pancreas to become inflamed.

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Bloodflow Problems

One of the best-known effects of high cholesterol is clogged arteries. The more cholesterol accumulates inside your arteries, the less flexible they become. It's more difficult for blood to flow through these rigid and narrow arteries.

Stiff arteries can lead to chest pain or angina, which develops when there is restricted blood flow to the heart. While this condition isn't indicative of a heart attack, it might increase your risk of serious cardiovascular problems over time.

Senior man with eyes closed holding his chest in discomfort, suffering from chest pain while sitting on bed at home. AsiaVision/ Getty Images

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Increased Risk of Stroke

When we think of cholesterol damaging the arteries, we usually think of the heart, but we also have arteries that lead to the brain. If these vessels become stiff and narrow as a result of plaque buildup, it becomes significantly harder for blood to flow into your brain.

This may lead to a stroke, which occurs when there is a disrupted supply of blood to the brain. A restricted blood flow deprives brain tissue of the oxygen and nutrients it needs to work properly. A stroke can result in lasting brain damage, and some are even fatal.

Shot of a senior man holding his chest in pain while sitting at home Moyo Studio/ Getty Images

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Shortness of Breath

If high cholesterol continues to accelerate, it might trigger the onset of coronary artery disease (CAD). One of the key symptoms of CAD is shortness of breath. Often, this symptom is accompanied by chest pain after exertion. If you find yourself having difficulty breathing during or after exercise, see a doctor as soon as possible.

If left untreated, CAD can heighten your risk of a heart attack. It's important not to ignore any breathing irregularities that you may be experiencing as a result of high cholesterol.

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Dizziness

While high cholesterol itself does not lead to dizziness, it may cause certain conditions to develop that have dizziness as a symptom. These include coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, stroke, and heart attack.

Like any other unusual symptoms you come across, don't ignore dizziness if it is frequent.  Because it might be a sign of an underlying high cholesterol problem or any number of other issues, it's best to address it as early as possible to avoid injury or more serious symptoms.

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Mental Health

While most people don't associate cholesterol with brain function, this substance is just as crucial to your brain as it is to your other organs. Your brain relies on cholesterol to produce and develop nerve cells, which regulate the signals that your brain sends out, allowing it to communicate effectively with the rest of your body.

If your cholesterol levels are high, though, this crucial process can be impeded. Excessive fat content in the blood may trigger loss of memory and a decline in brain function. In some patients, it even increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

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Peripheral Artery Disease

Blocked arteries can also lead to peripheral artery disease (PAD). As the name suggests, PAD impacts the peripheral arteries, which transport blood from the heart to other areas of the body. As with more central arteries, an accumulation of cholesterol causes these vessels to harden and become narrower.

PAD is most commonly found in the blood vessels located in the legs and feet. Symptoms include numbness, weakness, sensations of coldness, cramping, and a weak pulse in the affected body parts.

Peripheral artery disease measuring for patient ankle-brachial index (ABI) test limb ischemia Mindaugas Kurmis/ Getty Images

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Aortic Aneurysm

The most serious blood vessel that high cholesterol can target is the aorta. The aorta is the central artery that carries blood to the rest of the body. If it begins to narrow or harden, this can cause the aortic walls to bulge outward, which can lead to an aortic aneurysm.

Aortic aneurysms are typically treated with surgery. If they go untreated, however, they may eventually rupture and can be fatal.

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Renal Artery Stenosis

The job of the renal arteries is to transport blood from the aorta to the kidneys. When one or more of these arteries begins to constrict, renal artery stenosis may develop. This condition prevents the kidneys from receiving their necessary supply of oxygenated blood.

The risks of renal artery stenosis include injured kidney tissue and high blood pressure. This increase in blood pressure is often accompanied by worsening kidney function.

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Xanthoma

If your high cholesterol is a result of genetics, you might also experience symptoms of xanthoma, which develops when an excess of cholesterol builds up below the skin's surface. This results in skin lesions that are typically yellowish and waxy in appearance.

These skin lesions most often develop on the face, but even in people with genetically high cholesterol, it is not a common condition.

Beautiful short hair elderly woman holding mirror and applying face cream at home. ljubaphoto/ Getty Images

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.

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