Cholesterol embolization syndrome is a dangerous condition that happens when a crystal of cholesterol breaks off a cholesterol plaque inside one of your arteries.

There’s no specific treatment for CES. Treatment is usually directed at managing your symptoms, lowering cholesterol levels, and preventing future episodes. Additional treatments may include:

  • medications
  • renal replacement therapies (RRT), such as kidney dialysis
  • surgeries to unblock blood vessels, such as stents

While you’re at the hospital, doctors will also:

  • provide you with fluids and nutrition, often through an intravenous (IV) fluid tube
  • monitor your blood pressure

Doctors and other specialists will also closely observe your condition and administer additional medications or other therapies if needed.

Doctors don’t yet have medications that can cure CES. There’s also no consensus on what medications should be used to help your body fight this condition.

A 2010 review of studies suggests using the following medications:

  • Statins: These drugs are routinely used in people with high cholesterol. Statins may protect from future CES episodes because they are thought to stabilize the plaque.
  • Blood thinners: Blood thinners called antiplatelets help prevent blood clots and potentially can help with CES, even though there’s currently no direct evidence of this.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzymes (ACE) inhibitors: ACE inhibitors help blood vessels relax, which improves your blood flow.

There are also some reports that anti-inflammatory medications may be effective. In 2019, one person in South Korea was successfully treated using corticosteroids along with a vasodilator, which widens your blood vessels.

Other studies have also suggested that anti-inflammatory drugs cyclophosphamide and colchicine can also be helpful for treating CES. But more research is needed to confirm just how effective anti-inflammatories are for treating CES.

CES often affects the kidneys. A 2017 study suggested that the kidneys may be involved in up to 74% of CES cases.

If CES has damaged your kidney, you may need long-term renal replacement therapy (RRT). RRT replaces the normal blood-filtering function of the kidneys.

Some types of RRT used for CES include:

  • Peritoneal dialysis: Uses the lining of your abdomen to filter the blood inside your body.
  • Hemodialysis: Uses a special machine that filters your blood outside of your body.
  • Kidney transplant: Surgically replaces a non-functioning kidney with a new, functioning kidney from a donor.

Doctors sometimes use surgeries to treat CES, but only if they find the precise location of the embolism.

Surgeries can be risky. A doctor will be able to help you weigh the risks and benefits of this approach.

Surgeries for CES

  • Carotid artery surgery: A carotid artery surgery, also called an endarterectomy, can help treat CES located in your carotid arteries. These arteries are on both sides of your neck. Blockage of carotid arteries can lead to a stroke and can be fatal. During this procedure, a surgeon will cut into the artery to remove the blockage.
  • Heart bypass surgery: A heart bypass surgery is used if CES affects major arteries that obstruct blood flow to your heart. This can result in a heart attack, heart failure, or another major heart issue. During the procedure, a surgeon will use blood vessels from another area of your body to bypass the damaged arteries.
  • Stents: Heart angioplasty and stent placement are used to open up blocked arteries in the heart. In angioplasty, surgeons use a tiny balloon to open the affected blood vessel. A stent is a tiny wire-mesh tube that a surgeon inserts inside an artery to prevent the artery from closing down. These procedures are typically performed at the same time.
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An important goal of CES treatment is preventing future episodes. A doctor may recommend that you do the following:

Symptoms of CES usually appear gradually over a long period and can be difficult to notice at first.

Some common signs of CES can include:

You may also experience symptoms specific to the affected area of your body related to skin or kidneys.

Skin symptoms of CES

Kidney symptoms of CES

Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms of CES

Brain-related symptoms of CES

Eye-related symptoms of CES

CES is a life threatening condition caused by a cholesterol crystal blocking one of your arteries. Symptoms of CES can vary based on its location.

There’s no specific treatment for CES. You may need surgery as well as medications to help prevent future episodes. You may also need dialysis if CES affects your kidneys.

You can help prevent CES by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.