Figure A shows the location of the heart in the body. Figure B shows a normal coronary artery with normal blood flow. The inset image shows a cross-section of a normal coronary artery. Figure C shows a coronary artery narrowed by plaque. The buildup of plaque limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood through the artery. The inset image shows a cross-section of the plaque-narrowed artery.
Over time, plaque hardens and narrows your coronary arteries. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart.
Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture (break open). This causes a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque. If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery.
If the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle is reduced or blocked, angina (an-JI-nuh or AN-juh-nuh) or a heart attack may occur.
Angina is chest pain or discomfort. It may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. The pain also may occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. Angina pain may even feel like indigestion.
A heart attack occurs if the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle is cut off. If blood flow isn’t restored quickly, the section of heart muscle begins to die. Without quick treatment, a heart attack can lead to serious problems or death.
Plaque also can build up in other arteries in your body, such as the arteries that bring oxygen-rich blood to your brain and limbs. This can lead to problems such as carotid artery disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.).
Lowering your cholesterol may slow, reduce, or even stop the buildup of plaque in your arteries. It also may reduce the risk of plaque rupturing and causing dangerous blood clots.
The image focuses on high cholesterol in women and explains how high cholesterol increases the risk of developing heart disease. An estimated 1 in 2 women has high or borderline high cholesterol.
The image also lists the ranges of total cholesterol numbers for high, borderline high, and desirable cholesterol levels, and breaks down the percentage of women who have high cholesterol in their twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties.
Sources: National Center for Health Statistics (2007–2010). National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; National Center for Health Statistics (2005–2008). National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Cholesterol Education Program (2002). Third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) exert panel on detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood cholesterol in adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) final report.
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