Are your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels too high? “The effects of high cholesterol build up over the years,” says cardiologist Luke Laffin, MD. “We have to be aggressive about trying to lower it. Over long periods of time, high cholesterol increases the risk for strokes, heart attacks and hardening of your arteries, called atherosclerosis. Those are the main things we worry about.” Here are five signs your cholesterol is too high, according to doctors. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a dangerous condition where plaque buildup in leg arteries can cause pain. “People wouldn’t necessarily think that sore legs are related to heart disease,” says vascular surgeon Andy Lee, MD, Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “But if leg arteries are blocked, it’s likely that coronary arteries are blocked as well. Left untreated, PAD can potentially increase a person’s risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack. It is also a leading cause of limb amputation.”
Dizziness could be a sign of high cholesterol. “Say you have plaque buildup or cholesterol in your carotid arteries and not enough blood flow, or if you have narrowing of certain heart valves, or if you have arrhythmias, these can lead to what some people would call dizziness but is probably more appropriately termed lightheadedness,” says Dr. Laffin.
Chest pain could be a sign of serious illness and should never be ignored. “It’s important to focus on your cardiovascular health and if you experience any chest pain you should get this investigated urgently,” says Luke Pratsides, MD. “In particular, any chest pain that’s worse on exertion can be a sign of a blocked coronary artery that could lead to a fatal heart attack. If you ever have persistent or worsening chest pain that’s like someone’s sitting on your chest, or there’s any radiation of the pain to your left arm or jaw, this could be a sign of a heart attack and you should call [an ambulance].
High cholesterol can cause small, yellow fatty deposits called xanthelasma around the eyes. “Most often, we see it in the upper eyelids and the inner part of the eyelids closest to the nose,” says ophthalmologist Nicole Bajic, MD. “We’re not exactly sure why it occurs in some people with high cholesterol and not others, but when you see it on someone who does not have a known history of high cholesterol, it is a good idea to get that checked as there is roughly a 50% chance they have it.”
High cholesterol can lead to erectile dysfunction, doctors warn. “Older men who have poor cardiovascular health, diabetes or metabolic syndrome often experience erectile dysfunction – and the prevalence of these diseases is expected to increase,” says John B. Kostis, MD, professor of medicine, director of the Cardiovascular Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the study’s principal investigator. “Our research indicates that statins not only improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack, but also improve erectile function in the men included in our analysis.”