Heart Disease Research


How does cholesterol affect the heart?

If LDL cholesterol is too high, some is absorbed into the artery walls, where it acts like an irritant that triggers inflammation in the body. White blood cells crawl into the artery wall and start "gobbling up fatty particles" in a fruitless effort to heal the damage, says Dr. Dehmer.

The end result is big, fatty deposits in the blood vessels. This causes the vessels to become stiff, narrow, and less responsive to triggers to expand and constrict, a process that ensures a steady flow of life-giving oxygen to the body's tissues. (While you may think of blood vessels as akin to the plumbing in your house, they're more dynamic; they constantly adapt to meet the body's needs.)

If you want to see what cholesterol looks like, go get yourself a can of Crisco at the grocery store.

—Gregory Dehmer, MD, Cardiologist

This process can happen all over your body. If the fatty buildup is in the blood vessels in the legs (a condition known as peripheral arterial disease), you may experience cramping and have difficulty walking; if it's in the penis, you can develop erectile dysfunction; and if it's in the neck arteries, it can cut off the blood supply to the brain and cause astroke.

The biggest danger, however, is to the heart. The arteries that cover the surface of the heart are particularly prone to clogging. Once fatty plaques clog these blood vessels, blood flow to the heart tissue is reduced. This can cause chest pain, or angina.

If plaque ruptures, a clot can form and cause a heart attack—a dramatic decline in the blood supply that causes heart tissue to die. (To find out if youre at risk for having a heart attack, take this test.)


Atherosclerosis is a slow disease in which your arteries become clogged and hardened.The effects of atherosclerosis differ depending upon which arteries in the body narrow and become clogged with plaque. If the arteries that bring oxygen-rich blood to your heart are affected, you may have coronary artery disease, chest pain, or a heart attack. If the arteries to your brain are affected, you may have a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a stroke. If the arteries in your arms or legs are affected, you may develop peripheral artery disease. You may also develop a bulge in the artery wall (aneurysm).

Lowering blood pressure and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, quitting smoking, losing weight, and getting more exercise can prevent Atherosclerosis.