You may have heard that high cholesterol, or hyperlipidemia, is a risk factor for peripheral artery disease. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a chronic condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries over time, impeding blood flow to your legs, feet, and ankles. Buildup of plaque in the arteries is called atherosclerosis.
If you struggle with high cholesterol, knowing that it can cause PAD may be alarming. How are high cholesterol and PAD linked? If you lower your cholesterol, does your risk of PAD decrease?
Let’s take a closer look at how cholesterol and PAD are linked and offer ways to help treat high cholesterol and PAD. At USA Vascular Centers, our doctors are highly skilled in diagnosing and treating peripheral artery disease. We encourage you to contact us if you have questions or concerns about your risk of PAD. Risk factors can include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Advanced age
To learn how we can help answer your questions and address your concerns, make an appointment today.
How Does High Cholesterol Cause Atherosclerosis and PAD?
Cholesterol is a type of blood fat. It is a waxy material that exists in every cell of the body. Cholesterol is an essential part of the makeup of each cell, and it also plays a vital role in helping the body make Vitamin D, hormones, and acids that help you digest food.
The liver and intestines work together to make most of the cholesterol needed for optimal health. The rest comes from the food you eat. Cholesterol cannot travel through the bloodstream on its own, so it attaches to proteins called lipoproteins.
There are two main types of lipoproteins:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is known as the “bad” cholesterol. If you have too much LDL cholesterol in your blood, it can combine with other substances in your blood and stick to artery walls. This is called “hypercholesterolemia” and is a type of lipid excess, or hyperlipidemia, which causes atherosclerosis.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the “good” cholesterol because it absorbs cholesterol and transfers it to the liver, which expels it from the body.
While having too much LDL cholesterol is a major risk factor for plaque buildup in the arteries, having insufficient HDL cholesterol levels can also contribute to plaque accumulation because there isn’t enough HDL to help remove harmful cholesterol from the bloodstream.
There are several risk factors for high cholesterol, including smoking, vaping, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, advanced age, and genetics. A diet high in saturated fats, such as baked goods, some types of meat, and dairy products can also increase your risk for hyperlipidemia. This is also true of trans fats, which are present in many fried and processed foods.
The only way to know if your cholesterol is too high is to get a blood test known as a cholesterol screening. There are no obvious physical signs of high cholesterol, which makes it easy to forget about the risk of high cholesterol and PAD. Over time, high cholesterol can cause plaque to build up throughout your vascular system, including the peripheral arteries.
To help understand how cholesterol may be impacting your body, the CDC recommends getting your blood tested for cholesterol every four to six years if you do not have any risk factors and more frequently if you do.
Signs & Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease
Are you wondering if you have high cholesterol and PAD? High cholesterol may have no outward signs or symptoms, but peripheral artery disease does. Here are some of the symptoms to watch for:
- Cramping in the legs during exercise, such as walking, that stops after resting (intermittent claudication)
- Shiny skin on the legs, feet, or ankles
- Hair loss on your lower extremities
- Discolored skin on the legs and feet
- Temperature changes in your legs
- Erectile dysfunction
- A weak or absent pulse in the feet
Even if you have just one of the symptoms, it’s worth getting tested for peripheral artery disease. Early treatment can help improve PAD symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
Some people don’t notice any signs of PAD until it has progressed significantly, which is why it’s important to seek help right away if you notice any of the symptoms above. It’s also a good idea to get tested for PAD if your cholesterol levels are high. Your care team at USA Vascular Centers can guide you through the process of diagnosing and treating PAD.
Management and Treatment of Hyperlipidemia and PAD
To manage high cholesterol and help prevent PAD, you can start making small steps toward a healthier lifestyle. For example, you may choose to begin exercising several times a week. You can also enroll in a program to help you stop smoking or vaping, and consult with your doctor or a nutritionist to plan the ideal diet for your circumstances.
If you are diagnosed with PAD, your doctor may recommend the lifestyle changes above, along with medication to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Your doctor may also prescribe medication that helps reduce the risk of blood clots. It is important to take your medication exactly as directed.
For advanced cases of PAD, our expert physicians may recommend a minimally invasive procedure to widen your narrowed arteries, such as:
Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Centers
At USA Vascular Centers, our empathetic doctors can treat you at one of our state-of-the-art outpatient centers. You can receive non-surgical treatment for PAD that helps reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and prevent serious health conditions.