High cholesterol is commonly branded the “invisible killer” because there are usually no symptoms that accompany it. This makes it highly pernicious because high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease. Cholesterol build-up in the extremities can occasionally give rise to symptoms, however.
This process, which causes the hardening of arteries in the arms and legs, is called peripheral artery disease (PAD).
So, what should you be looking out for?
According to health body Azura Vascular Care, pain, weakness, or numbness in the calves, thighs, or hips that disappears after a few minutes of rest is one of the “most frequent” PAD symptoms reported by patients.
“In severe or advanced cases, pain might occur while lying down, but most times, simply dangling your feet over the side of the bed will alleviate the pain.”
This pain is due to clogged arteries often making simple physical activity difficult, explains the health body.
Other peripheral artery disease symptoms may include:
- Coldness in the lower leg or foot, especially when compared with the other side
- Leg numbness or weakness
- No pulse or a weak pulse in the legs or feet
- Painful cramping in one or both of the hips, thighs or calf muscles after certain activities, such as walking or climbing stairs
- Shiny skin on the legs
- Skin colour changes on the legs
- Slower growth of the toenails
- Sores on the toes, feet or legs that won’t heal
- Pain when using the arms, such as aching and cramping when knitting, writing or doing other manual tasks
- Erectile dysfunction
- Hair loss or slower hair growth on the legs.
Do not let PAD go untreated
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) explains: “When the blood flow becomes worse, the body can’t deliver enough blood, nutrients and oxygen to the skin and soft tissues.”
The health body continues: “This usually occurs in the feet, as they are furthest from the heart. You may develop persistent pain, ulcers and even gangrene in the feet.
“This is known as critical limb ischaemia, and rapid treatment is essential to have a chance of saving the leg.”
How to ward off the threat
The key to keeping PAD and other high cholesterol complications at bay is to keep cholesterol levels in check.
You can lower your cholesterol by eating healthily and getting more exercise.
There are several foods which are not just part of a healthy diet, they can actively help to lower your cholesterol too.
The more you add them to what you eat, the more they can help lower your cholesterol, especially if you cut down on saturated fat as well.
According to cholesterol charity Heart UK, cutting down on saturated fat and replacing some of it with unsaturated fats is a great way to lower your cholesterol.
Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in butter, lard, ghee, fatty meats and cheese.
Instead, you should opt for:
- Vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower, corn, rapeseed, nut and seed oils
- Avocado, nuts and seeds
- Fat spreads made from vegetable oils, such as sunflower and olive Oil
- Oily fish.
“Oily fish are a good source of healthy unsaturated fats, specifically a type called omega-3 fats,” explains Heart UK.
The charity adds: “Aim to eat two portions of fish per week, at least one of which should be oily.”
You should also aim to do at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of exercise a week, says the NHS.
Some good things to try when starting out include:
- Walking – try to walk fast enough so your heart starts beating faster
“Try a few different exercises to find something you like doing. You’re more likely to keep doing it if you enjoy it,” the NHS adds.