Warning signs of high cholesterol that appear in eyes, legs and tongue

Published on Jan 24, 2023 01:35 PM IST

High cholesterol usually causes silent damage to your body and puts you at risk of deadly diseases. But one must pay attention to these warning signs of excess cholesterol that appear in eyes, legs and tongue.

Dangerously high levels of this waxy substance can put us at grave risk of heart attack or stroke and not to mention an array of health issues that come as one develops fatty deposits in blood vessels. (Freepik)
Dangerously high levels of this waxy substance can put us at grave risk of heart attack or stroke and not to mention an array of health issues that come as one develops fatty deposits in blood vessels. (Freepik)
By, New Delhi

High cholesterol can cause great damage to your body and while there are hardly any symptoms initially, with time many of our body parts may start showing signs of excess cholesterol. Dangerously high levels of this waxy substance can put us at grave risk of heart attack or stroke and not to mention an array of health issues that come as one develops fatty deposits in blood vessels. These deposits can also obstruct blood flow in the arteries and lead to clot formation which can in turn lead to heart attack. Cholesterol in itself is not bad and our body creates enough amount naturally to take care of various important functions. (Also read: High cholesterol: Effective lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol in winters)

What is cholesterol

"Cholesterol is essential for your health. It is a waxy substance that is important for many functions in the body and travels through your bloodstream. Usually, healthy arteries, which are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart, nourish the tissues of your body. But cholesterol, along with other fats and substances, can form plaque on the walls of your arteries — this process is called atherosclerosis. People with high cholesterol are at risk of atherosclerosis, which can narrow the arteries and reduce blood flow to the tissues," says Dr Smruti Hindaria- Consultant Cardiac surgeon at Ruby Hall Clinic.

When cholesterol turns deadly

"Cholesterol is an important part of the human body, but raised levels of cholesterol can be dangerous. In this case, how can we know if our cholesterol levels have reached a dangerously high level? To understand this, it is important to first understand that there are two types of cholesterol- HDL (High-density lipoprotein) and LDL (Low- density lipoprotein). They are also known as good and bad cholesterol. The good cholesterol is HDL which is responsible for many important functions in the body such as hormone and Vitamin D generation. Bad cholesterol, which is LDL, starts accumulating in the vessels and creates complications," says Dr Mayank Arora, Consultant Internal Medicine, Manipal Hospitals, Ghaziabad.

High cholesterol can have a variety of symptoms, and these can vary depending on the specific area of the body that is affected. If your cholesterol level has increased too much then it will start showing in your eyes, skin, and sometimes even on the tongue. In this article, we will discuss signs of excess cholesterol in legs, eyes and tongue.

Signs of high cholesterol in legs

"One of the most common signs of high cholesterol in the legs is a condition called claudication. This occurs when the blood vessels in the legs become narrowed or blocked due to the build-up of cholesterol and other substances. As a result, leg pain or cramping can occur during physical activity, such as walking. This pain typically improves with rest, but can be severe enough to limit a person's ability to exercise or perform other activities," says Dr Aditya S Chowti, Senior Consultant - Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Cunningham Road, Bangalore.

"Build-up in the arteries of your legs and feet can cause a condition called peripheral artery disease (PAD). Leg pain during physical exercise is a common symptom of PAD. Other symptoms include physical changes of your legs and feet, which most often occur in the nails and skin. A common sign of PAD is a type of muscle pain known as claudication, which can include aching, cramping, numbness, and fatigue. This pain occurs with walking or other physical activity. It is often located in the legs, but can also occur in the butt, hip, thigh, calf, or foot. The pain usually occurs in the muscles where arteries are affected by cholesterol and fat build-up. In severe cases of PAD, muscle pain may not go away even when resting—and it can persist," says Dr Hindaria.

"People with PAD may develop smooth, shiny skin. You may lose your leg hair, or it may grow much more slowly. You may also notice that the colon of your skin changes. It may be darker (hyperpigmented) than usual. Other times, it may become a bluish colour (called cyanosis). You may find that your feet are cool or cold to the touch. With PAD, you might notice toenail changes. Toenails may grow more slowly or become thickened, deformed, or discoloured (dystrophic nails)," adds Dr Hindaria.

Decreased amount of muscle, or muscle atrophy, can be a consequence of PAD. Poor blood flow can damage cells, tissues, and nerves, which can cause wounds (ulcers) to form on the skin, especially if there is a small injury. These wounds can also be slow and difficult to heal and can form in areas affected by PAD.

Signs of high cholesterol in eyes

Another area of the body that can be affected by high cholesterol is the eyes. High cholesterol can lead to the development of xanthelasmas, which are yellowish deposits of fat that can appear on the eyelids.

"These deposits can be unsightly and can be mistaken for a skin condition, but they are benign and typically do not cause any symptoms. However, in some cases, xanthelasmas can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as hyperlipidaemia, and should be evaluated by a healthcare professional," says Dr Chowti.

"If we talk about the eyes, the skin under the eyes starts to show orange or yellowish spots. These are the signs of increased cholesterol in the body. If this happens, one must contact the doctor immediately. Cholesterol spots do not turn up suddenly, it is a slow process. When the levels of cholesterol increase in the body it starts to show in the outer parts of the body. It doesn’t have any effect on the vision of the patient but the high levels of cholesterol lead to the formation of yellowish-white spots on top of and under the eyes. In medical terms, it is known as arcus senilis and it mostly affects after the age of 35 years," says Dr Arora.

High cholesterol can also affect the retinal vessels. The retina happens to be a light-sensitive tissue located at the back of the eye. It receives the supply of blood through the retinal artery and retinal vein.

"When the lipid breaks and blocks the vein, the condition is known as retinal vein occlusion. When the artery is blocked, the condition is called a retinal artery occlusion which is also known as a stroke.

The symptoms of this condition are change in vision in one eye, blurry vision in one eye, dark lines or spots in the vision (floaters), and pain in the affected eye. High cholesterol can present in the eye in the form of Arcus Senilis. In this condition, a white, blue or grey ring forms around the periphery of the cornea as more cholesterol deposits in the cornea. The ring appears around the coloured part of the eye or the iris. While you may think that the iris has two colours, but it’s only a discolouration. But the ring doesn't affect your vision," says Dr Hindaria.

Signs of cholesterol in tongue

The tongue can also be affected by high cholesterol. A condition called hairy tongue can occur when the small bumps on the surface of the tongue (papillae) become enlarged and discoloured.

"These changes can make the tongue appear hairy, and can vary in colour from white to black. Hairy tongue is not harmful; however, it may cause bad breath and a bad taste in the mouth," says Dr Chowti.

"The tongue tip has a purple bluish colour or these may be blood stasis spots on the tip. The sublingual veins are dark or crooked and thick," says Dr Hindaria.

"Arteries in the body are responsible to carry nutrition and oxygen to different parts of the body but the accumulation of cholesterol may cause blockage in these arteries. This creates an inadequacy of oxygen and nutrition supply to the body. The nails of feet and hands, and skin start to change colour. These symptoms can sometimes be noticed on the tongue as well. The tongue may turn yellowish or the nerves on the tongue could turn blue," says Dr Arora.

Dr Chowti says that all these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, and a proper diagnosis should be made.

"High cholesterol can also be asymptomatic, meaning that it doesn't cause any visible signs or symptoms, that's why it is important to monitor cholesterol levels through regular check-ups, and following a healthy lifestyle that can help to prevent high cholesterol, including eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking," says Dr Chowti.

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