Cholesterol plaques on the feet are a warning sign of high cholesterol levels. Although they can manifest in many areas of your body, they often appear on your skin’s extremities, such as the toes and fingers. Cholesterol is found in your cells and travels through your blood stream to maintain cell integrity. However, if any part of this process breaks down — either at the cellular level or anywhere along the circulation path — plaque formation occurs, which can reduce cell functionality or completely block it . When this happens, cholesterol pieces form large clumps that build up over time and harden into what we call “cholesterol stones.” These hard patches reduce blood flow and may even break off into smaller particles that more problems downstream; they also change the surface of the skin and make it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients and release toxins.
What Are Cholesterol Stones and Why Do They Form?
The presence of cholesterol stones on feet can present as lumps or discoloration, but those that appear as lesions usually present as raised or hardened areas with a defined border that is lighter than surrounding skin. Atypical coloring such as redness, swelling, warmth, and itching may also be symptomatic of cholesterol plaques. These deceptively harmless symptoms often go unnoticed until they grow large enough to cause pain or discomfort during daily activities. Fortunately, there are ways you can manage cholesterol levels so they don’t reach this point: including exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet less of processed foods and more of whole foods, fruits, and vegetables.
If you notice any hard or discolored bumps on your ankles or other areas of the feet, you should consult a vascular specialist to diagnose whether or not they are caused by cholesterol plaques.
3 Effective Ways to Manage Cholesterol Plaque On Your Feet
If you are diagnosed with cholesterol plaques, there are ways to manage them, including lifestyle changes and medications. The first step is reducing bad cholesterols that can lead to plaque formation, along with increasing good ones. Aspirin therapy may help prevent blood clots that contribute to plaque formation and hardening. You can also maintain healthy circulation and increase blood flow by taking daily walks and getting your heart rate up at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes each time. Cutting out high-cholesterol foods such as saturated fat and trans-fats from your diet will also reduce your risk for plaque formation.
It is important to catch cholesterol plaques early on, because they can grow complicated if left untreated. In the later stages of cholesterol plaque formation, you may experience severe pain that limits your ability walk or stand for long periods of time. If this is ignored and becomes unmanageable, surgery may be required to remove and even replace some or all of the foot’s hard tissue. However, if you do not opt for invasive procedures and maintain healthy circulation, you must commit yourself to eating better and exercising regularly. Below are the steps you can take at home to help manage these types of feet issues:
- Massaging affected areas helps promote blood flow and relieve uncomfortable pressure built up by excess weight from standing.
- Taking a hot shower improves circulation and eases discomfort enough to get through daily activities.
- Using an over-the-counter medication can help give you some temporary relief from pain and swelling.
If your cholesterol levels are high, it is important to get them under control right away. Consult a doctor if you notice any of the following: bumps or lesions on feet that change color, form, and shape; lumps under the skin; discolored nails; reduced feeling in feet; and/or reduced ability to walk or stand for long periods of time.
Other Foot Problems Associated with High Cholesterol Levels
Even if you don’t have cholesterol plaques, here are some other common foot problems associated with high cholesterol levels:
Calluses and corns. These typically form when the skin lacks moisture and becomes hardened to cope with excess pressure. They often appear in areas where weight has been consistently placed, such as heels and balls of the feet. Patients who suffer from metabolic syndrome — a group of risk factors that increase your chances for cardiac disease and diabetes — tend to develop calluses or corns more readily due to their elevated blood sugar levels. The combination of high glucose levels and high insulin resistance leads to an acidic environment in which bacteria thrive; this encourages rapid growth on the outer layer of dead skin, resulting in an accumulation of corns or calluses. Those who are predisposed to this condition may notice it more commonly on the feet, but it can also appear between toes, under fingernails, around cuticles, and even on hairless skin.
Wound infections. Poor circulation reduces blood flow that helps fight infection. This is why wounds take longer to heal for those with high cholesterol levels. Since wounds can never heal properly without proper circulation, bacteria have a tendency to breed in them more rapidly than they do in healthy tissue. The lack of oxygen supply within the cells along with greater numbers of bacteria can lead to an infection. People who have diabetes are particularly susceptible since their poor blood glucose control already inhibits wound healing by slowing down cell division.
Wounds that have a yellowish color, develop pus, and stay wet for more than a few hours should be evaluated by a physician to determine if they are infected. If you notice any of these symptoms on the feet or toes, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Treatment Options: Natural and Prescriptive
If your doctor detects high cholesterol levels during a routine blood test, he may prescribe statins such as Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor, Mevacor, Pravachol, or Vytorin to help reduce them. In addition to lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly and eating healthy whole foods rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids, incorporating natural treatment options can also help lower bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing good HDL cholesterol.
Including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet is a great way to keep cholesterol levels in check. They also contain a good amount of fiber, a nutrient that can help rid the intestinal tract of excess cholesterol before it reaches the blood stream. Fiber-rich foods not only help reduce LDL cholesterol, but they may also improve insulin sensitivity — another risk factor for plaque formation. In addition to whole grains, flaxseed, beans, peas, nuts, brown rice, barley, apples, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, pears, and oats all have at least three grams of fiber per serving.
As previously stated, if you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol levels or are experiencing symptoms such as hard bumps on the skin or wounds that take longer than usual to heal, consult your doctor promptly. By eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, maintaining a regular exercise routine, quitting smoking, and taking medications as prescribed by your doctor, you can effectively manage cholesterol levels without the worry of developing plaque on feet or other unsightly effects.