Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood. Your body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, but high levels of cholesterol can gum up your arteries, causing less blood to flow through them. One manifestation of this is peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Symptoms of PAD – a condition caused by a build-up of fatty deposits such as cholesterol inside your arteries – often concentrate in the feet.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) explains: “When the blood flow becomes worse, the body can’t deliver enough blood, nutrients and oxygen to the skin and soft tissues.
“This usually occurs in the feet, as they are furthest from the heart.”
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According to the BHF, this is known as critical limb ischaemia, and rapid treatment is essential to have a chance of saving the leg.
Other symptoms of PAD can include:
- Hair loss on your legs and feet
- 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).
How to reduce your risk
Keeping high cholesterol levels at bay is the best buffer against PAD and other cholesterol-related complications, such as heart attack.
Initially, the most important tip is to get a formal diagnosis of high cholesterol.
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Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, include oils from vegetables, nuts and seeds, such as sunflower.
Exercise is also key to cholesterol control and keeping your heart healthy.
According to UK health guidelines, adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of intense activity every week. If you can do more that’s even better.
Moderate intensity activity means you get your heart rate up and you’re breathing harder, but you shouldn’t be out of breath.
One way of reaching 150 minutes a week is by being active for 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week.