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Leg pain? Why high cholesterol may be the cause

We all know that having a high level of cholesterol (an overall reading of 5.5mmol/L and above) is bad news for our health. But did you know that too much of this fat-like substance which circulates in your blood could be what’s causing your leg pain?

What is cholesterol?

Believe it or not, we need some cholesterol in order for our bodies to function correctly. It plays an essential part in creating certain hormones and also helps to maintain liver function. The problem comes when too much cholesterol builds up in the blood-stream, which can lead to blocked arteries.

What causes high cholesterol?

The main causes of excess cholesterol are lifestyle based – eating too many fatty foods, being overweight, smoking, drinking alcohol or not taking enough exercise can all cause cholesterol levels in the body to rise. Some people may also have high-cholesterol due to their genetic makeup.


How does high cholesterol affect the body?

The main impact of having too much of this fatty-substance is that it can build up on the inside of your arteries, thickening the walls of these essential pathways. The blood has less room to pump through your circulatory system, and your heart has to work harder to keep everything moving, which puts strain on your heart and raises your blood pressure.

You’ve probably also heard that high cholesterol can cause heart disease, heart attack or stroke. This is because the deposits of fatty cholesterol can break off, causing a clot or blockage in the arteries to the heart or brain.

What is less well known is that, high-cholesterol may also cause pain in the extremities including your legs.


How does high cholesterol cause leg pain?

High cholesterol can cause problems with circulation throughout the body, including the legs, by blocking or limiting blood flow in the arteries in the extremities. This is known as Peripheral Arterial Disease, or PAD.

If you have PAD, or reduced blood-flow to your legs as a result of high cholesterol, you may notice pain in your legs, usually when exercising. This is known as ‘claudication.’ You may notice pain when walking, running or even just climbing the stairs. Usually this type of pain stops when you stop the activity that has caused it. It’s important to seek advice from your GP if you experience this type of pain.

Changes in colour

Poor blood flow to the legs can also cause changes in the appearance of your skin. Depending on the position of your legs this may either cause skin to appear paler than usual (for example if you are elevating the legs) or a darker, purplish colour if you are sitting for longer periods of time. You may also notice this discolouration in your toes. Again, if you notice this symptom, it’s important to make an appointment with your GP.

Muscle cramp

Muscle cramp or spasms can have a number of causes. Cramps caused by PAD or poor circulation will often happen during the night, usually in the feet or toes. The cramps can usually be relieved by sitting in a chair, or dangling the legs/feet off the bed, as gravity will help restore the blood flow to the affected areas.

Revitive has also demonstrated clinical benefits for patients with PAD.

If you’ve been experiencing cramps of this type, it may be that you are suffering from poor circulation, or PAD. Speak to your GP for advice.

Feeling the chill

Finally, if you are suffering from poor circulation in the legs, you may notice that one or both of your legs or feet feel colder than the rest of your body.

Restriction to the blood flow to these areas can make it harder for them to warm up.

How do I know if my cholesterol is too high?

Many people with high cholesterol don’t experience any symptoms at all, so it’s a good idea to have this tested. You can get this test through your GP, or for a small fee many pharmacists are able to perform the test for you. You may also wish to purchase a home test. If your cholesterol is high, you can then take steps to improve your diet and lifestyle to help reduce the cholesterol in your blood.

Some people with high cholesterol may experience fatigue, feel short of breath, nauseous or have chest pain. If you experience these symptoms it’s important to speak to your GP.


How can I relieve my leg pain?

If you’re experiencing leg pain caused by blockages due to high-cholesterol, diagnosed medically as PAD, the good news is that changes to your diet and lifestyle can relieve the symptoms. Some doctors recommend ‘supervised exercise’, which means exercising with a specialist trainer. Exercise such as walking until the pain is too much, before taking a rest, then walking again can also be a good way to improve symptoms and gain fitness. 


This content is not intended as medical advice. We believe in helping people to make informed decisions about their health. We hope to empower you to ask your doctor the right questions so you can both agree on a treatment plan that’s right for you.



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