Signs of high cholesterol: Why leg pain should be paid attention to if you have high cholesterol

01/6 Suffering from high cholesterol issues? Take note of this symptom

Chest pain is a symptom we all know should not be ignored. However, we do not pay the same level of attention anytime we experience pain and discomfort in the legs, do we? When it comes to managing high cholesterol and evading heart trouble, doctors say that one absolutely should not ignore leg pain at any cost.

Now, high cholesterol can be a troubling issue which can affect vital health functions. While chest pain, breathing difficulties, increased risk of stroke and heart disease are daunting symptoms, cholesterol can be a problem which can show up in the legs as well. In fact, as doctors say, cholesterol levels affecting leg movements can be an early ‘warning’ sign of heart problems.

02/6 High cholesterol and leg trouble: What’s causing it?

High blood cholesterol levels, medically also referred to as hyperlipidemia, leads to clogged arteries. While it most of all causes clogging of the arteries in and around the heart, it sometimes also impacts the arteries elsewhere, including the limbs present in your legs. This is what causes peripheral artery disease, or PAD, when the legs do not get sufficient blood flow to keep up with the movement and function

Dr Rajesh Jaria, Consultant, Internal Medicine at P.D.Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Khar says, “All problems of high cholesterol are related to plaque deposition and build up in arteries which span the body. When such problems affect the lower limbs of the body, it could result in Peripheral Artery Disorder, which causes significant leg pain as a symptom.”

Dr Dheeraj Kapoor, Chief, Endocrinology, Artemis Hospitals Gurugram also believes that while the risk of peripheral diseases is still less seen, Indians are extremely susceptible to heart diseases and have high triglyceride levels, which is reason enough for us to not ignore any such symptoms at the very least.

A big reason for the leg pain is claudication, which can make it difficult for a person to walk across a few steps. “If a patient experiences leg pain, there could be a prime reason for it to be connected to the blockage of arteries of the leg, then the patient can also have blockages elsewhere in the body, including the heart” adds Dr Sridhara N, Senior Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Fortis Hospital Cunningham Road.

03/6  How dangerous can it be?

Experiencing leg pain without other specific cases could be bad, but in cases as such, when cholesterol is the deep rooted cause, leg pain for people who develop PAD can often be a sign of early heart trouble and cardiac ailments, since it signals that there may be more clogged arteries in and around the body, which could be a precursor for heart trouble.

The very issue that leg pain is often never linked as a sign of high cholesterol or cardiac issues is what puts people at a higher risk of encountering complications, severe trouble and getting a heart attack or a stroke as the pain progresses. Says Dr Sridhar, “While such pain symptoms could be easily mistaken, pain in the leg (calf and thighs) which develops while walking and gets relived while at rest is taken, is the sign of a blockage in the leg called claudication pain..”
If the pain is not treated or diagnosed in time, it could also cause later complications, since Peripheral Artery Disorder is a silent disease which doesn’t cause other symptoms. Any concerning sign of leg pain could , and should be treated as a ‘wake-up call’ to prevent heart disease risk.

04/6 Who has a higher risk for leg pain with high cholesterol and peripheral artery disease?

Symptoms of high cholesterol can show up in different ways for every person, and it may also offer differential outcomes basis genetic, and non-genetic risks. “Smoking is one of the most pressing factors which raises the risk. Besides, we do see that patients who have underlying issues report such problems more commonly”, adds Dr Kapoor. The doctor also says that with a double danger of diabetes and high blood cholesterol, which is a common issue many face, insulin resistance makes it very easy for a person to develop peripheral issues and experience troubling leg pain.

Peripheral artery disease is also more common in people older than 50, are obese, and also at the risk of high blood pressure, and have a history of smoking.

05/6 What are the symptoms you should be on the lookout for?

While leg pain can be brushed off or confused to be something unrelated to the heart, doctors say that PAD pain can leave few specific clues. People who have PAD also experience symptoms of heaviness and burning sensation in one or both of the legs, in any part.

Doctors also say that claudication leg pain follows a typical pattern, which could set it apart from different leg pain causes, such as the one caused by arthritis or muscle pain- and usually begins around the calves or the thighs.

Apart from this, doctors detail that blood flow disruptions caused by PAD in the legs could be noticeable with signs like foot ulcers, leg cramping, fatigue, painful sores and toe nail damage, especially for those who may have diabetes. Reduced hair growth, coldness in extremities, thinning of the skin, sudden paleness, shininess, frequent tingling or delayed ulcer healing could also be warning signs, adds Dr Jaria.

06/6  How can leg pain caused by Peripheral Artery Disease be treated?

While a lot of PAD cases may not be extremely severe, early detection and awareness can help save lives.

If you experience any sort of discomfort in the legs, or experience a new pain which lasts for more than a week’s time, scheduling a doctor’s appointment would be wise. People who have a predisposed, genetic risk, no matter what age they are should be the ones who should be the most careful. What’s important to realize is that leg pain could be more than just an inconvenience, and needs to be attended to.

Dr Kapoor advises that depending on the symptoms and the risks, patients are often asked to go for foot angiography and seek treatment accordingly. Blood thinners are often prescribed, or blockages are treated through surgeries or if there’s a severe risk, bypass is also deemed fit.

Experts also advise that simple activities like walking and stretching, even if they do cause the pain in the first place, should be tried. The more conditioned your legs become by walking, blood circulation improves and pain reduces over time.

Apart from this, PAD risk reduction is similar to that of having a heart-friendly lifestyle. Diet modifications, physical activities, reducing stress and being aware of the risk-factors are crucial keys to reducing overall risk and enjoying quality of life.


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