Fatigue And High Cholesterol: How Are They Linked?

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Can high cholesterol make me tired? 

Fatigue is common with high cholesterol. However, high cholesterol does not cause fatigue directly. In most cases, high cholesterol is symptom-free but causes emergency events due to the damage caused by complications. 

What is high cholesterol?  

Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance in the blood made by your liver and comes from the food you eat. The body uses cholesterol to produce cell membranes, vitamin D, and hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. 

Cholesterol doesn’t mix with water, and therefore it must be packaged up by particles called lipoproteins so it can travel around the body through the blood. 

There are two different types of cholesterol: 

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) 

LDL is often referred to as “bad cholesterol.” High LDL cholesterol levels can build up in the blood vessels, which carry blood and oxygen throughout the body (through the arteries). This build-up of cholesterol can cause the formation of a hard fatty substance called plaque, which can block the arteries. 

Eating foods containing high amounts of fat can increase the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood. High LDL cholesterol levels are known as high cholesterol, hyperlipidemia, or hypercholesterolemia. 

HDL is sometimes referred to as “good cholesterol” and helps to return LDL back to the liver to be processed and eliminated from the body. 

Symptoms and complications of high cholesterol

Complications such as stroke or heart attack are often the only symptom of high cholesterol. However, these do not usually occur until plaques form in your arteries due to high cholesterol levels. 

These plaques can narrow the arteries, which allows less blood to pass through. If plaques get too large and break off, this can clog the arteries and cause complications. 

Coronary artery disease¹ (heart disease or CAD) can occur when plaques build up within the arteries. If blood flow is blocked, this can present as chest pain (also known as angina) or a heart attack. 

Symptoms of CAD include: 

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Nausea, cold sweats

  • Shortness of breath

  • Discomfort or pain in the arms, chest, or shoulder 

Peripheral artery disease² (PAD) typically occurs when plaque builds up in arteries and prevents blood from reaching areas such as the stomach, limbs, and kidneys.  

Symptoms of PAD include: 

  • Pain, aching, or cramping in your feet or legs

  • Slow healing or constant sores on your legs or feet

  • One foot or leg or your toes feel cold

  • Tiredness in legs and feet

  • Reduction of hair growth on your legs

  • Toes that turn blue 

Strokes are caused by a blockage of the arteries, which stops blood from getting to the brain. 

Symptoms of a stroke include: 

  • Loss of feeling in one or both sides of the face, leg, or arm

  • Facial asymmetry (drooping of the face on one side)

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Loss of balance or coordination

  • Dizziness

  • Confusion or disorientation 

Call emergency services or seek medical attention immediately if you suspect that you or someone you are with is experiencing a stroke or heart attack. 

When should you see a doctor?

Having high cholesterol does not usually cause symptoms. The only way to know if you have high cholesterol levels is by taking a blood test. 

If you haven’t yet, talk to your doctor about checking your cholesterol levels at your next appointment. 

Risk factors for high cholesterol include: 

  • Inactivity or lack of exercise

  • Smoking

  • A diet high in saturated and trans fat

  • High stress 

Luckily, there are many ways to manage these risks, and often you may just need to change your lifestyle choices or go on medication. 

However, some high cholesterol conditions are genetic and passed down through your family, including: 

  • Familial hypercholesterolemia (high levels of cholesterol)

  • Hyperlipidemia (high levels of lipids)

  • Familial hypertriglyceridemia (high levels of triglycerides) 

If you have a family member with any of these conditions, you should talk to your doctor about having a blood test to check your cholesterol. These conditions can sometimes affect younger people as well, so it’s always best to get checked over. 

The lowdown 

High cholesterol does not directly cause fatigue. Fatigue is often associated with the complications of high cholesterol, but high cholesterol does not typically cause symptoms. High cholesterol can lead to coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, or stroke if left untreated.  

The only way to determine if you have high cholesterol is through a blood test ordered by your doctor. High cholesterol is manageable by changing your lifestyle choices or going on medication. There are also many ways to prevent having high cholesterol, such as: 

  • Having a healthy diet 

  • Regular exercise 

  • Stopping or decreasing smoking 

It is important to get regular checks if you suspect you have high cholesterol.

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