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Signs You Have Heart Disease Caused by Cholesterol

Never ignore these signs of coronary artery disease.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US, and coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease. "CAD happens when coronary arteries struggle to supply the heart with enough blood, oxygen and nutrients," says Stephen Kopecky, MD. "Cholesterol deposits, or plaques, are almost always to blame. These buildups narrow your arteries, decreasing blood flow to your heart. CAD typically takes a long time to develop. So often, patients don't know that they have it until there's a problem. But there are ways to prevent coronary artery disease, and ways to know if you're at risk and ways to treat it." Here are five signs of heart disease caused by cholesterol, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Fatigue and Lightheadedness

young woman having a panic attack
Shutterstock / fizkes

"Heart problems show up differently in men than women," says Charles Julian Lowenstein, MD. "While men's heart attacks are more likely to cause chest pain and discomfort as a main symptom, heart attacks in women can cause pain in other areas such as the back, neck, jaw or stomach, along with shortness of breath, lightheadedness and sudden fatigue."


Chest Pain

Woman holding hand to spot of pain area, chest

Chest pain is a common symptom of heart disease, doctors say. "When coronary arteries become narrow, the heart doesn't get enough oxygen-rich blood," says Dr. Kopecky. "Remember, unlike most pumps, the heart has to pump its own energy supply. It's working harder with less. And you may begin to notice these signs and symptoms of pressure or tightness in your chest. This pain is called angina. It may feel like somebody is standing on your chest."



Ankle pain, painful point. Unhappy woman suffering from pain in leg at home

A feeling of numbness in the arms or legs could be cause for concern. "The main contributors to plaque build-up are fat and cholesterol," says Michelle Castiello, MD. "Eventually, plaque will break off and completely block the blood flow. In the heart, this creates a heart attack. When it happens in the extremities, it can cause pain and numbness in the legs and feet. It can also lead to amputations to parts of the feet."


Pain and Cramping

Thigh pain or muscle twitching or muscle cramp.

Unexplained pain could be a sign of heart disease. "Pain or cramping in the legs and feet when walking even short distances," says Dr. Castiello. "In the early stages, this will usually go away when resting and then come back with activity. If the pain persists even when resting, it may be more advanced."


Heart Attack

Woman is clutching her chest

"When your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs, you might develop shortness of breath or extreme fatigue during activities," says Dr Kopecky. "And if an artery becomes totally blocked, it leads to a heart attack. Classic signs and symptoms of a heart attack include crushing, substernal chest pain, pain in your shoulders or arms, shortness of breath, and sweating. However, many heart attacks have minimal or no symptoms and are found later during routine testing." 


When Should I See a Doctor?


If you experience any of the symptoms of heart disease or heart attack, don't hesitate to contact a doctor and get help. "For some heart problems, every minute counts," says Dr. Lowenstein. "Blocked blood flow to the heart or an abnormal heartbeat need attention right away. A heart attack can result in permanent damage to the heart muscle within 30 minutes. Delaying help could mean you end up with a more serious problem that could result in a hospital stay — or even death. Even if you're not sure you're having a heart issue, it's better to be safe than sorry. Call 911 or get to a hospital, where doctors can examine and treat you promptly."

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 about Ferozan