Indeed, the NHS says that evidence “strongly indicates” that high cholesterol can increase the risk of peripheral arterial disease (PAD). The health body says the condition is usually caused by a build-up of fatty deposits, which are made up of cholesterol and “other waste substances”.
The Cardiovascular Institute of the South (CIS) notes: “High levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, can allow plaque to build within the arteries and restrict blood flow.
“The condition is a known risk factor for a number of dangerous health occurrences, including heart attack and stroke.”
CIS says high cholesterol requires patients to be “especially cautious” and aware of any potential changes in their health, and suggests you should be aware of the signs of PAD.
The health body explains that PAD is the narrowing of arteries outside of the heart, which “can occur in the stomach, arms, and most commonly, the legs”.
“Just as unhealthy levels of LDL cholesterol can gradually block the arteries of the heart with plaque, the same can occur in the legs or other areas of the body,” it adds.
“Unfortunately, this narrowing often develops without symptoms, making awareness of risk factors all the more important.”
The NHS states: “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.”
It notes that many people with PAD have no symptoms, though one sign is “hair loss on your legs and feet”.
“However, some develop a painful ache in their legs when they walk, which usually disappears after a few minutes’ rest,” the NHS says.
It adds: “The pain can range from mild to severe, and usually goes away after a few minutes when you rest your legs. Both legs are often affected at the same time, although the pain may be worse in one leg.”
According to the NHS other symptoms of PAD can include:
- Numbness or weakness in the legs
- Brittle, slow-growing toenails
- Ulcers (open sores) on your feet and legs, which do not heal
- Changing skin colour on your legs, such as turning pale or blue
- Shiny skin
- In men, erectile dysfunction
- The muscles in your legs shrinking (wasting).
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.
Despite this, high cholesterol does not tend to cause symptoms, so you should find out if you have it from a blood test.
The NHS says that more than two in five people in England have high cholesterol “which puts them at significant risk of developing heart disease”.
The health body adds that around 6.5 million adults in England are currently taking lipid-lowering drugs such as statins.
Statins are the most common medicine for high cholesterol, according to the health service, and work by reducing the amount of cholesterol your body makes.
Fortunately changing what you eat, being more active, and stopping smoking can often help get your cholesterol back to a healthy level.
The NHS notes that there are two main types of fat, which are saturated and unsaturated. Eating too many foods high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood.
The health body says most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat. If you’re aged 40 to 74, you can get your cholesterol checked as part of an NHS Health Check.