In my role as cholesterol “Category Expert” for www.answers.com, I recently answered a question sent in by an Answers reader that I was surprised to find I’d never expressly addressed here on my blog: “Why does high cholesterol lead to heart disease?”
Here’s the answer I posted: you can read it on this page of wiki.answers.com, or I’ve pasted it here as well:
Once you look at the definition of cholesterol, it’s easy to see why high cholesterol can cause heart disease.
The National Institute of Health defines cholesterol as, “a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body.” Cholesterol in and of itself is not bad – in fact, your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones and vitamin D, and your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. But sometimes genetics and/or eating high fat foods and not getting enough exercise results in overly high cholesterol levels.
When you have more cholesterol than your body needs, the waxy, excess cholesterol can build up and stick to the artery walls – that’s called plaque. When plaque forms, there is a significant increase in risk of two heart disease problems — stroke and heart attack — because plaque can break open and cause a blood clot. A stroke happens when a blood clot blocks an artery that feeds the brain. A heart attack is the result when plaque or a blood clot blocks an artery that feeds the heart.
So while having high cholesterol alone used to be cause for treatment to stave off heart disease, as of the new November 2013 guidelines, now high cholesterol by itself is not THE big risk factor. Rather, the latest treatment standard is to factor high cholesterol in with other heart disease risk factors to determine overall risk of stroke and heart attack.