Untreated high cholesterol can have serious long-term effects on your health, increasing the risk of various health problems, including:
1. **Atherosclerosis**: High cholesterol contributes to the buildup of plaque in arteries, leading to atherosclerosis. This condition narrows and hardens the arteries, restricting blood flow and potentially leading to heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
2. **Heart Disease**: Over time, the buildup of plaque in coronary arteries can result in coronary heart disease. This increases the risk of angina (chest pain), heart attacks, and heart failure.
3. **Stroke**: Plaque buildup in arteries can also affect blood flow to the brain, increasing the risk of strokes.
4. **Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)**: Narrowed arteries in other parts of the body, especially the legs, can lead to reduced blood flow, pain, and even tissue damage.
5. **High Blood Pressure**: Elevated cholesterol levels can contribute to high blood pressure (hypertension), which further strains the heart and blood vessels.
6. **Type 2 Diabetes**: High cholesterol can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which itself is a significant risk factor for heart disease.
7. **Pancreatitis**: Extremely high levels of triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood) associated with high cholesterol can trigger pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas.
8. **Xanthomas**: These are fatty deposits that can form under the skin or around tendons, especially in individuals with very high cholesterol levels.
9. **Gallstones**: High cholesterol levels can lead to the formation of gallstones, which can cause abdominal pain and other digestive issues.
10. **Cognitive Decline**: Some research suggests that high cholesterol may be associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and conditions like Alzheimer's disease.
11. **Reduced Life Expectancy**: The cumulative effects of untreated high cholesterol can significantly reduce life expectancy due to the increased risk of cardiovascular events and other related health problems.
It's important to monitor your cholesterol levels regularly, make healthy lifestyle choices (such as a balanced diet, regular exercise, and not smoking), and follow your doctor's recommendations for managing high cholesterol. If your cholesterol levels are elevated, your healthcare provider may recommend lifestyle changes, medications, or a combination of both to lower your risk of these potential long-term effects.