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Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol causes plaque to build up inside your veins and arteries, reducing their inside diameter. That makes for traffic jams amongst your red blood cells. A total gridlock is called a blood clot, which is very, very bad news.
When a blood clot blocks an artery, the oxygen-carrying red blood cells can't get to their destinations. Like FedEx, when it absolutely, positively, has to be there overnight, blood cells really need to get the oxygen to all parts of the body on time. Without oxygen, cells quickly start to die. Dead cells don't grow back. If too many cells in your heart die, you'll follow suit.
A chain of events unfolds when you have too much bad LDL cholesterol. I'll call it fat's domino effect:
- Domino 1: Having too much bad cholesterol not only means you'll have too much junk (plaque) in your arteries. It also means that LDL "bad" cholesterol will get into the middle layer of your artery. That cholesterol in the middle layer acts like a drunk fan with courtside seats, making the environment much more hostile than it's used to being. The presence of LDL cholesterol in that middle layer stimulates the immune system to attract white-cell protectors to try to smooth out and calm down the rotten cholesterol.
- Domino 2: Those white blood cells, in turn, spill some of their toxic contents that normally attack infections -- and that causes generalized inflammation.
- Domino 3: The toxic contents and cholesterol are soaked up by scavenger cells, building up blister-sized spaces in the walls of your arteries. They're called foam cells -- and they increase the size of the plaque even more to make the artery surface rougher.
- Domino 4: Sensing something's wrong, your body responds with more inflammation, creating bulges and potholes in the arterial wall, often in the area of weakness, where an initial nick was and a scar was trying to form dangerous plaque. If that plaque ruptures into the middle of your blood vessel the next domino falls.
- Domino 5: These rough patches in the wall then attract sticky blood platelets to form clots in your arteries. Normally, platelets are good (they help form scabs to heal wounds). But when they hit that rough patch in your arterial wall, they grab the lining and form a big clot on top of irritated, inflamed plaque. And that brings in more clotting proteins to the area that act to cement the platelets in place.
- Domino 6: All of this gunk piles up faster and faster and the inside of the arteries become so inflamed that the platelets and clots fill the entire artery. This ruptured plaque process take minutes rather than decades (so you can influence its likelihood today by making the right choices about food).
- Domino 7: The blood can't get through the artery, and nourishment to heart is shut off.
- Game Over: The chain reaction triggers a heart attack (or, depending where the process happens, causes a stroke, memory loss, impotence, wrinkled skin or any number of health problems that happen when blood flow malfunctions).
This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.