High cholesterol isn’t big on announcing its presence but it needs to be detected before laying the groundwork for a slew of complications, ranging from heart disease to stroke. While the fatty culprit rarely shows symptoms, warning signs sometimes appear once cholesterol starts clogging your arteries. One tell-tale sign of this process can strike in your hip.
Leaving high cholesterol untamed can promote plaque build-up in your arteries, which can trigger the “first noticeable” sign.
Dr Rodney Foale, consultant cardiologist at The Harley Street Clinic (part of HCA Healthcare UK) said: “If left untreated, over time high cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis – where arteries become blocked with fatty substances called plaques.”
The main ingredients hidden in plaques include fatty substances, cellular waste products, calcium, fibrin and cholesterol.
Once your arteries get filled with this mixture, they become hard and stiff.
This doesn’t create an ideal environment for blood flow, with your legs taking the hit.
“In some instances, people who don’t treat their high cholesterol can risk developing ‘peripheral arterial disease’ (PAD) – a form of cardiovascular disease – where a build-up of fatty deposits made from cholesterol and other waste substances block the arteries and restrict blood supply to leg muscles,” said Dr Foale.
The “first noticeable symptom” of PAD is claudication, which describes muscle pain triggered by a lack of oxygen, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Another tell-tale sign is that this pain tends to disappear after a few minutes of rest.
The NHS reports: “The pain can range from mild to severe, and usually goes away after a few minutes when you rest.”
The Cleveland Clinic adds that this warning sign can be severe enough to stop you from participating in your usual daily activities, such as “golfing or chasing after grandchildren”.
However, your hips aren’t the only area that could break the news of cholesterol build-up in your arteries as your buttocks, calves, thighs and feet could also ring alarm bells.
Apart from pain in different areas of your body, PAD can also lead to other tell-tale signs, according to Dr Foale:
- Hair loss on your legs and feet
- Numbness or weakness in the legs
- Brittle, slow-growing toenails
- Ulcers (open sores) on your feet and legs, which do not heal
- Changing skin colour on your legs, such as turning pale or blue
- Shiny skin
- Erectile dysfunction (in men)
- The muscles in your legs shrinking (wasting).
“Unfortunately, PAD can be difficult to detect as many people don’t experience any symptoms,” the expert added.
This silent nature makes PAD very similar to high cholesterol levels which means the most reliable way of determining your cholesterol is through a blood test.
The good news is that once you get the condition confirmed, there’s plenty you can do to minimise your risk of serious problems and get the fatty substance in check.
Dr Foale said: “If treated, through adopting a healthy lifestyle changes, including a balanced diet, doing regular exercise, or medication, high cholesterol levels can be reduced and doesn’t always lead to any serious issues.
“Cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins are the current standard of treatment and are commonly used in addition to these lifestyle changes.”