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Here's What High Cholesterol Feels Like, Says Cardiologist

My name is Dr. Brandon Calenda and I am a non-invasive cardiovascular specialist at Atlantic Health System's Chilton Medical Center. In my practice, I regularly work with patients to manage cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy substance naturally produced by the liver that your body needs to build cells. It is naturally present in animal fats such as meat and dairy, but is not present in plants. Cholesterol is not inherently "bad", but it is important to know about because too much of it can cause serious health issues. While high cholesterol itself typically has no symptoms, it is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the U.S. That's why it is so important to monitor your cholesterol regularly. Much like high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke, it can develop and progress without any symptoms. 

1

What is the first symptom of high cholesterol?

closeup doctor's hand holding blood sample for cholesterol

High cholesterol is common. In fact, nearly 94 million adults have borderline high cholesterol with 28 million who fall above the upper limits of normal levels, according to the CDC. What's worrisome, is that high cholesterol is considered a silent killer since there are no symptoms. The only way to detect if you have it is through a blood test.

High cholesterol increases your risk for serious conditions that do have symptoms. One symptom to watch out for is angina. This is discomfort in the chest, neck, jaw or stomach that occurs predictably with exertion or stress and improves with rest. This can be a sign of blocked arteries within the heart. 

2

What is the second symptom of high cholesterol?

A man experiencing discomfort in his upper arm

High cholesterol can also increase your risk of a stroke. If you're experiencing face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, sudden numbness, imbalance and/or confusion, seek medical care immediately, as these could be symptoms of a stroke. 

3

What is the third symptom of high cholesterol?

Most of the health issues associated with high cholesterol impact the circulatory system but soft yellowish growths or lesions on the skin, called xanthomas, may also suggest higher levels. Xanthomas can vary in size and may be as small as a pinhead or as large as a grape. They are usually caused by high levels of blood cholesterol. They are typically seen around the eyelids or the tendons of the hands and feet. Although they aren't dangerous themselves, they are often a warning sign of extremely high cholesterol.

4

What is the fourth symptom of high cholesterol?

Middle-aged woman suffering from pain in leg at home, closeup

High cholesterol can also increase your risk of peripheral artery disease (narrowing of the arteries in the legs). When the muscles of the legs cannot get the blood flow they need, you can get predictable cramping and fatigue in the legs with physical activity, a symptom that doctors call intermittent claudication. If you find that your legs are "running out of steam" much faster than they used to, it may be worth asking your doctor to check your leg circulation.

5

What is the fifth symptom of high cholesterol?

Sad man sitting on a bed, girlfriend in the background.

In men, impotence may also be caused by too much bad cholesterol. Together with other risk factors for vascular disease, blockages in small arteries and poor circulation can negatively impact sexual performance, and may be a symptom of high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease in general.

6

How to lower a person's high cholesterol?

Woman Eats Cereal

High cholesterol may be one of the major risk factors for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, but it's controllable and can be managed through lifestyle changes and/or medication. For many people, improvements in diet (limiting intake of dietary cholesterol such as red meat, processed/cured meats, cheese and many baked goods) can bring cholesterol levels down into normal range.  Eating a high fiber diet can also help lower cholesterol levels as well. 

For others, cholesterol levels may be more genetic in nature, and medication may also be indicated to lower the levels. In addition, regular exercise, avoiding smoking, minimizing alcohol and getting plenty of sleep are important steps to maximize your cardiovascular health. Ultimately, everyone is unique and you should work with your doctor to assess your cardiovascular risk and find the right treatment plan for you.

The time to start living your healthiest life is now. It is recommended to get a baseline cholesterol level checked for all adults, even if you are young and feel healthy. This is particularly important if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease or other risk factors.  There is no time like the present to get an assessment of your cardiovascular risk with a medical professional.

 

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