Hypercholesterolemia means you have higher-than-normal cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a waxy substance with several functions, including making hormones and vitamins. Excessive amounts of cholesterol can be harmful to your body because they can collect on blood vessel walls, causing problems with blood flow.

Hypercholesterolemia can be due to genetic mutations that cause your body to develop too-high cholesterol. Lifestyle attributes, such as a diet high in saturated fats, can also cause the condition.

Keep reading to find out what symptoms may indicate hypercholesterolemia and when to talk with a doctor.

Hypercholesterolemia is a condition that causes extremely high cholesterol levels.

Your body has two kinds of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL cholesterol is often called the “bad” cholesterol because of its effects on your heart.

HDL cholesterol is often called the “good” cholesterol because this lipoprotein helps to carry LDL cholesterol away to your liver for processing. Doctors consider having higher levels of HDL cholesterol beneficial for your body, while high LDL cholesterol levels can be harmful.

High LDL cholesterol levels include the following:

  • 130 mg/dL with two cardiovascular risk factors (such as obesity, smoking, or high blood pressure)
  • 160 mg/dL with one cardiovascular risk factor
  • 190 mg/dL with no known risk factors

Some people can have genetic mutations that cause hypercholesterolemia. These mutations can cause cholesterol levels that are 450 mg/dL or higher. Cholesterol levels this high can result in heart attacks or strokes at an early age.

Hypercholesterolemia doesn’t always cause symptoms in adults. When it becomes severe, it can sometimes cause cardiac problems or chest pain. In some severe cases, it can lead to hypothyroidism or nephrotic disease. These conditions can cause symptoms that include the following:

Those with high cholesterol levels can also experience a high buildup of cholesterol in their blood vessels. This affects blood flow and can affect the ability to feel pulses in your body.

If a healthcare professional was to listen to your pulses with a stethoscope, they might hear bruits. These are abnormal, swishing sounds that indicate blood isn’t flowing as it should.

Hypercholesterolemia symptoms in adults vs. children

Hypercholesterolemia doesn’t commonly occur in children. However, an estimated 30% to 60% of children with obesity have high cholesterol.

Children don’t usually show symptoms when they have high cholesterol. However, childhood obesity, a family history of hypercholesterolemia, and abdominal obesity increase a child’s risk of high cholesterol.

High cholesterol symptoms in the feet

High cholesterol can cause unusual symptoms in your feet known as tendon xanthomas. These are cholesterol deposits that build up on tendons, ligaments, or other areas of your Achilles tendon (back of the foot) or backs of your hands.

These nodules may start small and grow in size. They usually only occur in those with familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). If you undergo treatment for high cholesterol, these xanthomas will often go away.

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Familial hypercholesterolemia symptoms

FH is a genetic condition that causes a person to develop high LDL cholesterol levels. The condition is also known as “pure hypercholesterolemia.” These higher levels can cause severe side effects, including a higher risk of heart disease and heart attacks at a young age.

Those with FH may have some symptoms that include:

  • bumps or lumps that develop around your elbows, knees, or knuckles
  • swelling or pain in the back part of your foot above your ankle, where your Achilles tendon is
  • a whitish-gray color in the shape of a half-moon that develops outside the colored portion of your eye
  • yellow-tinged areas that develop around your eyes

If you have a family history of FH, talk with a doctor about it. They may wish to perform early or regular cholesterol testing.

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Familial hypercholesterolemia can cause unusual symptoms such as yellow-tinged patches around the eyes, and changes to the whites of your eyes.

Polygenic hypercholesterolemia symptoms

Polygenic hypercholesterolemia is a condition that causes high LDL cholesterol levels with normal triglyceride levels. This condition is due to a genetic mutation.

The condition doesn’t usually cause symptoms. However, the high cholesterol levels that polygenic hypercholesterolemia causes can increase your risks for stroke and coronary artery disease.

When to seek medical attention

Hypercholesterolemia can increase your risks for a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke. Getting medical care, even before you have early hypercholesterolemia symptoms, can ideally help you prevent these events.

The condition usually isn’t a medical emergency. Seeing your physician for annual visits, discussing your risk factors for high cholesterol, and getting your cholesterol checked regularly can all help you identify any changes in your cholesterol levels.

Sometimes, a doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or prescribe medications if your cholesterol is very high.

Click here to hear more about treatments for hypercholesterolemia.

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Hypercholesterolemia can be due to lifestyle factors or inherited disorders. The condition doesn’t always cause symptoms, but it can contribute to unwanted side effects and health problems.

If you have a family history of high cholesterol, talk with a doctor about testing. You may need to evaluate your risk factors and regularly check your cholesterol levels.

Doctors can treat high cholesterol with lifestyle changes as well as prescription medications, such as statins, that lower your risks.