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If You Notice This on Your Body, Have Your Cholesterol Checked

Five signs your cholesterol needs attention.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Are you concerned about cholesterol levels being too high? "There are two types of cholesterol: 'good' [HDL] and 'bad' [LDL]. It's important to understand the difference, and to know the levels of 'good' and 'bad' cholesterol in your blood," says Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, Director, Women and Heart Disease with the Heart and Vascular Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "Too much of one type — or not enough of another — can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke." Here are five signs you need to get your cholesterol levels checked. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Abdominal Fat

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Excessive abdominal fat—also known as visceral fat, or belly fat—is linked to high cholesterol, doctors warn. "The fat around the belly is particularly metabolically active, meaning that it produces a number of factors that increase the risks for heart disease," says Paula Johnson MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

2

Trouble Breathing

Asian young woman feeling discomfort as suffering from heartburn holding chest with closed eyes and sitting with folded legs on couch at home.
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Buildup of plaque in your arteries could cause chest pain and trouble breathing. "That is the most common presenting symptom," says Vallerie McLaughlin, MD, director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Program at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center. "The right side of the heart is having trouble pushing blood flow through the lungs — and it's not getting to the left side of the heart and body. It puts strain on the right side of the heart, which is not used to pushing against the high pressure."

3

Yellow Bumps

woman touching her neck, skincare, looking in bathroom mirror
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Yellow growths on skin called xanthomas could be a sign of high cholesterol. "Xanthomas are localized lipid deposits in the skin, tendons, and subcutaneous tissue associated with a lipid abnormality," say Jeffrey S. Henning, MAJ, MC, and Michael G. Fazio, CPT, MC. "They are clinically classified as eruptive, planar, tuberous, or tendinous. Eruptive xanthomas are the most common type and appear as crops of discrete yellowish papules that may have erythematous bases. They often appear in areas subject to pressure or trauma, such as the buttocks, extensor surfaces, and flexural creases."

4

Are You Overweight?

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Being overweight or obese is strongly associated with high cholesterol, experts warn. "If you are obese and have high cholesterol, losing weight should help lower your cholesterol, as well as your risk for other obesity-related conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular disease," says Johns Hopkins Medicine.

5

Family Genetics

Man and woman holding their bellies while sitting on the bed suffering from extra weight.
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Even with no outward signs of high cholesterol, a family history of hyperlipidemia could raise your risk. "Oftentimes, one of the biggest factors that determines your cholesterol levels is your genes," says Kate Kirley, MD. "How your genes affect your cholesterol is pretty complicated, but it's safe to say that high cholesterol tends to run in families. For most people, genetic testing isn't necessary or helpful unless they have very high cholesterol levels. And because genes are something we can't change this is why medications are an important tool for treating high cholesterol."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more