High cholesterol symptoms: Five signs high cholesterol has caused ‘irreversible’ damage

High cholesterol: Nutritionist reveals top prevention tips

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Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is made in the liver and also found in many foods you eat. It performs any important roles in the body, such as building heathy cells and aiding the production of vitamin D and hormones. However, high cholesterol is an altogether different beast.

“Too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to build up of fatty plaques on the walls of blood vessels known as atheroma,” warned Doctor Luke Pratsides, Lead GP at digital healthcare company Numan.

Accord to Doctor Pratsides, atheroma can completely or partially block blood vessels.

“In the early stages there is evidence to say that these atheroma can be reduced or reversed with a healthier diet and exercise,” he said.

However, “with time these atheroma and the blood blood vessel walls harden in a process known as atherosclerosis”.

According to Doctor Pratsides, these hard atherosclerotic plaques are irreversible.

The doc explained that these signs of irreversible damage caused by atherosclerotic plaques depend which organ of the body they are present in.

He said: “In the coronary arteries, blood vessels that supply the heart, atherosclerosis can mean the heart muscle does not get enough blood supply and the oxygen and nutrients it needs from the blood.”

According to Doctor Pratsides, this is known as ischaemia and can cause chest pain which initially comes on after exertion, known as stable angina.

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“In the worst cases, the atherosclerosis ruptures and completely blocks the heart leading to a myocardial infarction, more commonly known as a heart attack, which is a life threatening emergency.”

The irreversible damage does not stop there.

“In the brain, atherosclerosis in the small vessels can lead to memory loss and progressive cognitive degeneration known as vascular dementia,” warned Doctor Pratsides.

He continued: “In larger vessels it can lead to stroke-like symptoms that resolve after a short time known as transient ischaemic attacks or TIAs.”

Other irreversible warning signs include:

  • Leg amputation
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Permanent visual field loss.

How to ward off cholesterol complications

Doctor Pratsides said: “Whilst it is impossible to completely avoid atherosclerosis, as small plaques are inevitable with time, you can prevent major vessel occlusions and slow any progression of existing athersclerotic plaques by ensuring a diet low in saturated fats.”

Saturated fat is found in:

  • Butter, ghee, suet, lard, coconut oil and palm oil
  • Cakes
  • Biscuits
  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Sausages
  • Bacon
  • Cured meats like salami, chorizo and pancetta
  • Cheese.

According to Doctor Pratsides, you should also opt for a diet low in refined sugar, refrain from smoking and avoid excessive alcohol consumption to curb high levels.

Regular physical exercise, which includes cardiovascular exercise such as running or cycling, to maintain healthy blood vessels also helps.

According to the NHS, you should aim to do at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of exercise a week.

Some good things to try when starting out include:

  • Walking – try to walk fast enough so your heart starts beating faster
  • Swimming
  • Cycling.

“Try a few different exercises to find something you like doing. You’re more likely to keep doing it if you enjoy it,” advises the NHS.

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