High Cholesterol and Coronary Artery Disease

What is high cholesterol?

High cholesterol is an excess of cholesterol in your blood. Cholesterol is a type of lipid, which is a group of fats and other substances like fat that are found in your body and in the foods you eat. A high cholesterol level is often due to a problem with your lipoproteins (low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, and high-density lipoproteins, or HDL). Lipoproteins are combinations of cholesterol, fat, and protein that your body uses to transport cholesterol and fat nutrients in your blood. The other important lipid nutrient that your body processes and distributes along with cholesterol is triglyceride. This is a fat nutrient that your muscle cells use for energy and that your body stores in your fat tissue for later use.

Why is high cholesterol a risk factor for coronary artery disease?

An imbalance of these cholesterol-carrying lipoproteins can lead to a buildup of cholesterol inside your arteries. Doctors do not completely understand the process. The excess cholesterol gets deposited in the walls of your arteries, which contributes to the development of coronary artery disease (CAD). The hard plaque that forms in your arteries as a result of atherosclerosis is made mostly of cholesterol.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)

LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to other parts of the body where it is needed for cell repair and other activities. But under certain conditions, LDL cholesterol builds up in the walls of the arteries. For this reason, LDL cholesterol is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol.

Lowering LDL and total cholesterol levels can help lower the risk of CAD, as well as heart attack, stroke, and death.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL)

HDL cholesterol is often referred to as "good" cholesterol. A high HDL level is linked with a lower risk of heart disease.


Triglycerides are another form of fat found in the blood. High triglyceride levels may contribute to fat buildup in the heart arteries and increase the risk of developing CAD.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology

Current as ofJanuary 27, 2016