High cholesterol: Pain in three areas of the body signals high levels – do not ‘dismiss’

High cholesterol: Nutritionist reveals top prevention tips

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High cholesterol means you have too much cholesterol in your blood. Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced inside the liver that helps to build healthy cells. Levels must be kept in check, however. High cholesterol is associated with serious complications, such as peripheral artery disease (PAD), which is signalled by pain in three areas of the body.

PAD is a common circulatory problem whereby narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs.

As the Mayo Clinic explains, PAD is often caused by atherosclerosis.

In atherosclerosis, fatty deposits such as cholesterol build up on your artery walls and reduce blood flow.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), cramping pain in the hips, thighs or calves when walking, climbing stairs or exercising, can signal PAD.

The AHA continues: “The pain of PAD often goes away when you stop exercising, although this may take a few minutes. Working muscles need more blood flow. Resting muscles can get by with less.”

Other symptoms of PAD include:

  • Foot or toe wounds that won’t heal or heal very slowly
  • Gangrene, or dead tissue
  • A marked decrease in the temperature of your lower leg or foot compared to the other leg or the rest of your body
  • Poor nail growth on the toes or hair growth on the legs
  • Erectile dysfunction, especially in men with diabetes.

As AHA explains, “many people dismiss leg pain as a normal sign of aging”.

The health body continues: “You may think it’s arthritis, sciatica or just ‘stiffness’ from getting older. For an accurate diagnosis, consider the source of your pain. PAD leg pain occurs in the muscles, not the joints.”

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How to ward off cholesterol complications

There are a number of important steps you must take to lower high cholesterol.

First and foremost, you must get tested. Since high cholesterol is mostly symptomless, you can only find out if you have it from a blood test.

“Your GP might suggest having a test if they think your cholesterol level could be high,” explains the NHS.

“This may be because of your age, weight or another condition you have (like high blood pressure or diabetes).”

The NHS says to ask your GP surgery for a cholesterol test if you have not had a test before and you’re over 40, overweight, or high cholesterol or heart problems run in your family.

“You’re more likely to have high cholesterol.”

How to lower high levels

There are several foods which are not just part of a healthy diet, they can actively help to lower your cholesterol too.

“You should try to eat some of these every day as part of your healthy diet,” advises 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, says Heart UK.

Unsaturated fats include:

  • 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,” adds Heart UK.

The charity advises aiming to eat two portions of fish per week, at least one of which should be oily.

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