Eight warning signs of disease linked to high cholesterol you may notice in your legs

A painful ache in your legs when you walk could be a red flag
A painful ache in your legs when you walk could be a red flag -Credit:iStockphoto

It's thought that more than half of people in the UK have a "silent killer" health condition that can pave the way to other life-threatening diseases - with Brits urged not to mistake the warning signs for ageing.

High cholesterol is when you have too much of a fatty substance called cholesterol in your blood, and can increase your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke by blocking your blood vessels. The condition is often caused by eating fatty food, not exercising enough, being overweight, smoking and drinking alcohol, and can also run in families.

You may not be aware that you have high cholesterol as it does not usually cause symptoms, and the only way to know for sure is through a blood test - the NHS advises asking your GP for one if you're over 40, overweight, or high cholesterol or heart problems run in your family. However, some red flags can sometimes appear that could be life-saving if spotted early, The Express reports.

This includes if you develop a condition called peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a form of cardiovascular disease where a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries restricts blood supply to leg muscles. High cholesterol can increase your chances of developing PAD, as can high blood pressure, smoking and having diabetes.

Again, many people with PAD have no symptoms, but some develop a painful ache in their legs when they walk, which can range from mild to severe and usually goes away after a few minutes' rest. 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:

  • 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 paler than usual or blue – this may be harder to see on brown and black skin

  • Shiny skin

  • The muscles in your legs shrinking (wasting)

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

If you experience recurring leg pain when exercising, the health service advises seeing a GP, as many mistakenly think pains are just part of growing older. PAD is usually diagnosed through a physical examination by a GP, and by comparing the blood pressure in your arm and your ankle.

To reduce your cholesterol levels, you can cut down on fatty foods, especially products that contains saturated fat, and try to eat more oily fish like mackerel and salmon, as well as fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, brown rice, wholegrain bread and whole-wheat pasta. You should also aim to do at least two and a half hours of exercise per week - you can find more advice on the NHS website.