Five ‘slight changes’ in the leg that can signal high cholesterol

High cholesterol: Nutritionist reveals top prevention tips

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High cholesterol means you have too much cholesterol – a fatty substance produced inside the liver – coursing through your bloodstream. Over time, this can narrow the arteries in your legs, thereby restricting circulation. This process, known as peripheral artery disease (PAD), can present subtle symptoms that are often overlooked.

“It is for this very reason that everyone should be aware of the slight changes that can indicate a problem with circulation in the legs,” says health body Cardiovascular Institute of the South (CIS.

CIS continues: “These clues can offer just the insight needed to detect PAD early and minimise its impact on both the heart and limbs.”

According to the health body, the following five are the most common:

  • Leg Pain – Leg pain while exercising, or intermittent claudication, is the most common symptom of PAD. This pain is most common in the calves and occurs when the muscles do not receive enough blood flow during exertion
  • Poor Nail & Hair Growth – Visible changes in the lower legs and feet are another potential sign of PAD. In addition to slow hair and nail growth, the skin may appear shiny and change in colour
  • Slow & Non-Healing Wounds – Sores and wounds require adequate blood flow in order to heal properly. When a patient has PAD, wounds to the feet or lower legs may take an exceptionally long time to heal
  • Cold Feet & Lower Legs – Maintaining body temperature depends on strong circulation. Plaque buildup in the legs of PAD patients can reduce circulation and result in a reduced temperature of the affected limbs
  • Weak Pulse in the Legs or Feet – A physician can help determine if PAD may be an issue simply by checking a patient’s pulse in the legs. Blocked arteries and reduced blood flow mean that the pulse is likely to be weaker here than in higher points such as the wrist Likewise, a simple test to measure blood pressure in the legs known as an ankle brachial index (ABI) can offer even more valuable insight.

The symptoms of PAD often develop slowly, over time. If your symptoms develop quickly, or get suddenly worse, it could be a sign of a serious problem requiring immediate treatment.

According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you experience recurring leg pain when exercising.

“Many people mistakenly think this is just part of growing older, but there’s no reason why an otherwise healthy person should experience leg pain,” notes the health body.

“PAD is usually diagnosed through a physical examination by a GP, and by comparing the blood pressure in your arm and your ankle.”

It adds: “A difference between the two may indicate PAD and is called the ankle brachial pressure index (ABPI).”

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How to ward off the threat

Overhauling an unhealthy lifestyle is key to staving off PAD and other high cholesterol complications.

Top of the list is to cut back on saturated fat, which is found in fatty cuts of meat and hard cheeses.

As the British Heart Foundation (BHF) explains, this “reduces the liver’s ability to remove cholesterol, so it builds up in the blood”.

Instead you opt for foods high in unsaturated fat, such as vegetable oils, avocado and oily fish.

“Oily fish are a good source of healthy unsaturated fats, specifically a type called omega-3 fats,” explains cholesterol charity Heart UK.

The health body continues: “Aim to eat two portions of fish per week, at least one of which should be oily.

“A portion is 140g, but you could have two or three smaller portions throughout the week.”

It adds: “Avoid coconut and palm oil as, unlike other vegetable oils, they are high in saturated fat.”

Exercise can also help to reduce very high cholesterol levels.

According to the NHS, you should aim to do at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of exercise a week.

Some good things to try when starting out include:

  • Walking – try to walk fast enough so your heart starts beating faster
  • Swimming
  • Cycling.

“Try a few different exercises to find something you like doing. You’re more likely to keep doing it if you enjoy it,” adds the NHS.

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