If Your Knuckles Look Like This, You May Have High Cholesterol

Cholesterol might not be something you worry about when you're younger, but cholesterol can be a bigger concern as you age. Because high cholesterol doesn't have symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests adults get their cholesterol checked every five to seven years. Even children and adolescents aren't necessarily in the clear. They should have their cholesterol checked at least once around the age of 10, but children with obesity or diabetes might have to be checked more often.

For some people, high cholesterol might be a matter of a genetic disorder. Familial hypercholesterolemia is a defect in a specific chromosome that affects the ability to remove LDL cholesterol from your blood. Although you need a certain amount of cholesterol for your body to function, too much cholesterol in your blood can cause blockages in your arteries. One of the symptoms of familial hypercholesterolemia is fatty skin deposits or bumps on areas such as your knees, elbows, and knuckles.

Symptoms of familial hypercholesterolemia

These fatty skin deposits, also called xanthomas, can look like yellow, orange, or red bumps or pimples. Some can be small and cluster together, while others can be as large as 3 inches. These xanthomas are a sign that you have too much cholesterol circulating through your blood and occur more often in people aged 20 to 25. People younger than 45 might also have these fatty deposits in their eyelids or have yellow areas around the eyes. They might have a gray, half-moon discoloration of their cornea.

People with familial hypercholesterolemia might also experience signs of heart disease, such as chest pain. Because this condition affects cholesterol levels at a young age, even young people could develop plaques that narrow their arteries and cause chest pain.

Other symptoms of familial hypercholesterolemia can occur in the lower limbs, such as pain or swelling in the Achilles. This is due to the cholesterol deposits thickening these tissues. You could experience sores on your toes or cramping in your calves while walking.

Testing and treating familial hypercholesterolemia

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 250 people has familial hypercholesterolemia. Knowing your family history is key to protecting you and your children from heart disease. If you or your partner have familial hypercholesterolemia, your child has a 50% chance of inheriting the condition and should have a cholesterol screening starting at age 2. A child could have an LDL cholesterol level of 160 or above, which could pose early damage to the arteries. Children as young as 8 years old might need to resort to taking statins to lower their cholesterol.

Familial hypercholesterolemia might not exhibit any symptoms, but your doctor might suspect this condition if your LDL cholesterol is more than 189 or your non-HDL cholesterol is above 219. Your doctor might ask if your parents have high LDL cholesterol or early heart attacks. Although you could undergo a genetic test for familial hypercholesterolemia, your doctor could also look at how your cells absorb LDL cholesterol.

Before prescribing cholesterol medications, your doctor might suggest lowering your cholesterol without medication through diet and exercise. This includes a diet low in saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 6% of your total calories for the day come from saturated fats. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, your upper limit is 13 grams. Three ounces of mozzarella cheese will almost put you at your limit.