High cholesterol is very common, but most people don’t know they have it because it doesn’t cause obvious signs. The American Heart Association (AHA) explains that high cholesterol contributes to the build-up of plaque in the arteries, which can significantly reduce the blood’s flow. It says managing your cholesterol levels is essential to prevent or treat peripheral artery disease (PAD).
The NHS notes PAD is a common condition where a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries restricts blood supply.
The health body 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.”
PAD is usually diagnosed through a physical examination by a GP, and by comparing the blood pressure in your arm and your ankle.
The AHA says: “The most common symptom of lower-extremity peripheral artery disease is painful muscle cramping in the hips, thighs or calves when walking, climbing stairs or exercising.”
The organisation explains the pain of PAD often goes away when you stop exercising, although this may take a few minutes.
It says: “If blood flow is blocked due to plaque build-up, the muscles won’t get enough blood during exercise to meet the needs.
“The cramping pain (called intermittent claudication) is the muscles’ way of warning the body that it isn’t receiving enough blood during exercise to meet the increased demand.”
It adds: “Many people with PAD have no symptoms or mistake their symptoms for something else.”
The AHA says: “If you have cramping, tingling or weakness in your legs, you might have peripheral artery disease.”
The organisation warns: “PAD can lead to leg or foot amputation and even heart attack or stroke. Early detection is key!”
The NHS says more than two in five people in England have high cholesterol “which puts them at significant risk of developing heart disease”.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) recommends all adults have a cholesterol check at any age, even if they feel completely well. It should be repeated every five years – or more often if the test was abnormal.
Fortunately, not everyone with high cholesterol will experience PAD, and there are a number of ways to reduce cholesterol.
The NHS says: “To reduce your cholesterol, try to cut down on fatty food, especially food that contains a type of fat called saturated fat. You can still have foods that contain a healthier type of fat called unsaturated fat.”
Changing what you eat, being more active, and stopping smoking can often help get your cholesterol back to a healthy level.
The NHS notes 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.
The cholesterol blood test measures your levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and your total cholesterol to HDL ratio. Your total cholesterol should be 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults or 4mmol/L or less for those at high risk.
The NHS adds 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.