High cholesterol occurs when you have too much of a fatty substance called cholesterol in your bloodstream. Cholesterol plays many important roles in the body, such as helping your metabolism run efficiently. However, having high levels of low-density lipid (LDL) cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol, increases the risk of heart problems or stroke.
This harmful process usually does not give rise to symptoms, which makes it insidious.
However, consistently high levels can put you at risk for peripheral arterial disease (PAD), in which a buildup of cholesterol-based fatty deposits and other waste products clog arteries and limit blood supply to leg muscles.
According to Dr Sami Firoozi, Consultant Cardiologist at Harley Street Clinic, part of HCA Healthcare UK, brittle or slow growing nails can be a telltale sign of cholesterol complication.
Other signs include:
- Aching pains in the leg while walking – they usually disappear after a few minutes of rest
- Hair loss on legs and feet
- Numbness or weakness in the legs
- Ulcers (open sores) on the feet and legs, which do not heal
- Change in the color of your leg skin, such as turning pale or blue
- Shiny skin.
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“Although PAD is not immediately life-threatening, the atherosclerotic process that causes it can sometimes lead to serious and life-threatening problems, such as critical limb ischemia which occurs if blood flow to the legs becomes severely restricted,” Dr. Firoozi warned.
- Intense burning pain in the legs and feet that persists even when you rest
- Your skin becomes pale, shiny, smooth and dry
- Sores and ulcers (open sores) on the feet and legs that do not heal
- Loss of muscle mass in your legs
- The skin on your toes or lower extremities becomes cold and numb, turns red and then black and/or begins to swell and produce smelly pus, causing intense pain (gangrene).
Getting tested for high cholesterol
“Your GP may recommend that you have a blood test to check your cholesterol levels if they feel you are at risk – this will be based on your age, weight, smoking status, whether you have diabetes or s ‘there’s a family history of high cholesterol or heart problems,’ says Dr. Firoozi.
“You may also be tested for high cholesterol if you have heart disease such as coronary artery disease or have a history of stroke.”
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A blood test will show the total cholesterol in your blood, including the levels of “good” and “bad” cholesterol.
How to reduce high cholesterol
To lower your cholesterol levels, you need to review your diet and increase the amount of exercise you do.
“Try to reduce your intake of fatty foods, especially foods that contain a type of fat called saturated fat,” advises the NHS.
Saturated fats are found in:
- Meat pies, sausages and fatty meat
- Butter, lard and ghee
- Cream and hard cheese, such as cheddar
- Cakes and cookies
- Foods containing coconut oil or palm oil.
Physical activity is also essential to control your cholesterol levels and keep your heart healthy.
According to the charity Heart UK, it raises your HDL cholesterol levels – the good cholesterol that removes fat from your arteries.
Plus, exercise also lowers your LDL cholesterol — the type of cholesterol that’s deposited in your arteries.
According to UK public health guidelines, you should aim to get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of exercise per week.
One way to achieve 150 minutes per week is to be active for 30 minutes per day, at least five days per week.
Moderate-intensity activity means your heart rate quickens and you breathe harder, but you shouldn’t be out of breath.
Walking, jogging, swimming, biking, and dancing are all good choices.
“Remember to start slow and work your way up,” advises Heart UK.