High cholesterol has no symptoms. By the time you notice the effects of the condition, you’ve developed something far more serious, which makes preventative check-ups important for good health.
Potential Symptoms of High Cholesterol
High cholesterol levels result in fatty deposits in your blood vessels. This can reduce blood flow, depriving your heart, brain, and other vital organs of oxygen-rich blood. The condition itself has no symptoms, but it is strongly associated with the following conditions:
- Chest Pain. High cholesterol can lead to chest pain in a number of ways. The most common way is chest pains (known as angina) due to lack of oxygen.
- Calf Pain. Blockages and lack of oxygen in your lower body1 can cause noticeable pain during any physical activity, even before other noticeable signs of coronary artery disease arise.
- Hair Loss. Lack of oxygen can kill hair follicles2. This can cause noticeable baldness at the crown of the head in men and women.
- Erectile Dysfunction. Pelvic blockages in men can lead to mild to severe cases of erectile dysfunction3.
- Skin Lesions. High cholesterol creates a higher risk of various skin conditions4 like fatty deposits and plaques on the surface of the skin.
- Migraines. Migraines can serve as a warning sign for potential strokes.5This is especially true in patients with no history of migraines or other severe headaches.
- Stroke. In some cases, strokes can come before any other symptoms of high cholesterol. Patients who have had a stroke should make lowering their cholesterol a high priority.
- Heart Disease. Patients with a history of heart disease and artery diseases need to take special care to reduce cholesterol levels. High cholesterol could result in more severe conditions, including heart attacks.
When to See a Doctor
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), adults who are age 20 or older should have their cholesterol checked every four to six years. If your test results fall outside of acceptable ranges, or show a trend that will end outside of acceptable ranges, your doctor will likely recommend more frequent testing of cholesterol and other medical metrics. More frequent testing may also be necessary for people with a family history of heart disease, high cholesterol, stroke or personal risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking or diabetes.
High cholesterol should be considered a warning sign. It could be your body’s way of alerting you to change an unhealthy lifestyle, or of an underlying medical issue. For better health, get tested regularly and treat reports and symptoms of high cholesterol with the serious attention it deserves.
For more helpful tips, take a look at our “Treatment” section.
2 Gude D. Hair Loss: A Harbinger of the Morbidities to Come; International Journal of Trichology 2012;4(4):287-288. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.111212.
3 Wei M, Macera CA, Davis DR, Hornung CA, Nankin HR, Blair SN. Total cholesterol and high density lipoprotein cholesterol as important predictors of erectile dysfunction. Am J Epidemiol. 1994 Nov 15;140(10):930-7. PMID: 7977280.
4 Dwivedi S, Jhamb R. Cutaneous markers of coronary artery disease. World Journal of Cardiology; 2010;2(9):262-269. doi:10.4330/wjc.v2.i9.262.
5 Kurth T, Chabriat H, Bousser MG. Migraine and stroke: a complex association with clinical implications. Lancet Neurol. 2012 Jan; 11(1):92-100. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(11)70266-6. Review. Erratum in: Lancet Neurol. 2012 Feb;11(2):125. PMID 22172624.