High Cholesterol Symptoms: 3 Signs to Look Out For

Medical review: Dr. Ana Luiza Lima
Cardiologist
April 2022

Symptoms of high cholesterol generally do not exist and high levels are usually only able to be diagnosed through a blood test. However, excess cholesterol circulating in the blood can lead to fatty deposits in the liver. In some people, this liver change can cause symptoms like: 

  1. Small, elevated growths on the skin, also known as xanthelasma 
  2. Abdominal swelling without any apparent reason
  3. Increased sensitivity around the abdomen 

Xanthelasma can build-up on the tendons and skin, and can cause lumps of different sizes throughout the body. They can be pink with well-defined borders. They usually appear in clusters, commonly on the back of the arm, on the hands, or around the eyes, as seen below: 

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Abdominal swelling and sensitivity in this area are usually caused be an enlarged liver or spleen, and occurs when triglyceride blood levels are close to or over 800 mg/dl. These levels may also cause symptoms like intense abdominal pain and frequent nausea. 

Because these symptoms will only occur when cholesterol levels are severely elevated, most people do not know when their cholesterol levels are above normal. This allows high cholesterol levels to remain untreated and become more elevated. Learn more about normal cholesterol levels

How high cholesterol is confirmed 

The only reliable way to confirm whether cholesterol is high or not is to complete a blood test. A blood sample can be analyzed in the lab where total cholesterol, "good cholesterol", "bad cholesterol" and triglycerides can be assessed.

You should fast for 12 hours prior to checking cholesterol levels, and you should inform your lab tech whether you fasted or not. 

What causes high cholesterol 

The main cause of high cholesterol is an unhealthy diet that contains high amounts of fatty foods (like yellow cheese and fried food), and processed foods. These make cholesterol levels increase quickly and are hard for the body to eliminate efficiently.

Lack of physical exercise and poor lifestyle habbits, like smoking and excessive drinking, can also increase your risk for elevated cholesterol levels. 

In addition, genetics can play a role in your risk for high cholesterol. Even if you maintain a healthy diet and exercising regularly. you may still have high cholesterol due to a genetic tendency that affects several family members. 

Treatment options

The best way to manage high cholesterol levels and avoid medication use is by exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy diet. You diet should be low in fat and consist of plenty of fruit and vegetables.

In addition, you can try incorporating some home remedies to help detox the liver and eliminate excess cholesterol. Some options are yerba mate and artichokes. 

There are situations in which conservative management is not sufficient in reducing cholesterol, and the doctor may need to prescribe medications like sinvastatin or atorvastatin. These help the body to eliminate cholesterol, and are especially effective in cases of hereditary high cholesterol. 

It is important to keep cholesterol levels controlled as high levels can lead to health problems like atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, cardiac insufficiency and infarct. 

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in April 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Ana Luiza Lima - Cardiologist in April 2022.
Medical review:
Dr. Ana Luiza Lima
Cardiologist
Physician who studied Medicine at the UFPE in 2008 and specializes in Cardiology. Licensed to practice under licence #16886 of the CRM-PE, Brazil.