Heart Disease and Cholesterol: Warning Signs That Appear On Your Skin
Your dermatologist may be the first person to notice that you have high Cholesterol because your skin and nails can show warning signs. If you know what to look for, you may see the warning signs of heart disease on your skin and nails.
- Swollen feet or lower legs
It tells you: Your heart is not functioning properly.
Many heart conditions can cause fluid to build up in the feet and lower legs. As fluid builds up, the swelling may spread to the upper leg and groin area.
Medical name: edema (medical term for water retention)
- The skin is blue or purple in color
It tells you: blockage in the blood vessels.
When you are extremely cold, your skin may turn blue (or purple). If a part of your skin turns blue (or purple) when it is warm, it may be a sign that there is not enough oxygen in your blood. The patient in this photo has a condition called blue finger syndrome, which is caused by a blockage in one or more blood vessels.
If left untreated, the lack of oxygen can cause the skin and underlying tissues to die.
Medical name: cyanosis (refers to the blue color of the skin).
- A blue or purple web-like pattern on the skin.
This can tell you: you have clogged arteries.
Some people see this pattern on their skin when it is cold. As your skin warms up, this pattern will disappear. You may also see this pattern if you are taking certain medications. If one of these causes you to have reticulation, there is usually nothing to worry about.
This unique pattern can also be a sign of a condition called cholesterol embolism, which occurs when small arteries become blocked. Blockages can lead to tissue and organ damage, so it’s important to see your doctor even if you don’t have a diagnosed condition.
Medical name: Reticularis (Livedo Reticularis)
- Yellow-orange or waxy growths on the skin
This can tell you: your cholesterol levels are unhealthy.
If you see yellow-orange growths on your skin, you may have cholesterol deposits under your skin. These painless deposits can appear in a variety of places, including the corners of your eyes, the palms of your hands, and the backs of your legs.
If you see these growths on any part of your skin, you should see your doctor. You may need to have a cholesterol test or other tests. Unhealthy cholesterol levels require treatment and can prevent deadly heart disease. Getting your cholesterol levels under control can also help eliminate the growths on your skin. If the growths do not clear up, they can be treated by a qualified dermatologist.
Medical names: xanthomas (cholesterol deposits on the eyelids), xanthomas (cholesterol deposits on other parts of the skin).
- Sudden appearance of arachnoid bumps on the skin
It can tell you: your cholesterol or diabetes is soaring.
These sudden bumps look like a rash, a wart, or a contagious skin disease called molluscum contagiosum. These bumps are fatty deposits of cholesterol caused by very high levels of triglycerides (a type of cholesterol) in the blood.
Treatment is essential to lower triglycerides and to treat serious conditions such as heart disease caused by high cholesterol.
Medical name: Eruption xanthomas (refers to the sudden appearance of many cholesterol deposits)
- Crooked nails and swollen fingertips
It can tell you: you may have a heart infection, heart disease or lung problems. For many people, these signs are harmless. So if your fingers or nails appear like this, it’s a good idea to check for medical problems, such as lung disease or heart problems.
Medical name: nail fungus (refers to a swollen nail pointing downward or finger)
- There is a red or purple line under the nail
What it can tell you is that most people who see these lines under their nails have hurt their nails in some way. If you don’t remember hurting your nails, you should see a doctor. These lines could be a sign of heart disease or other illness.
If they are a sign of heart disease, many people experience symptoms such as high fever, low or irregular heart rate.
Medical name: splint bleeding (You will often see splint-like lines inserted under the nails.
- Smooth, waxy bumps on the skin
It may tell you: you have protein deposits in your heart or other organs.
These waxy bumps can appear anywhere on the skin. They are usually a sign of abnormal protein buildup in the heart or other organs. Protein buildup in the heart can make it difficult for the heart to work properly.
Medical name: systemic amyloid nodules (“nodules” refers to size and amyloidosis refers to the type of protein that builds up.
- A painful nodule on a finger, toe, or both fingers
What it tells you is that you have an infection of the heart or blood vessels.
If you have a heart infection called infective endocarditis, you may have these painful lumps on your fingers, toes, or both. The lumps can last from a few hours to a few days.
Although the lumps will go away on their own, the patient will need to treat the infection. Since the infection is caused by bacteria, it can usually be treated with antibiotics. In some cases, surgery may be required.
Medical name: Osler’s nodule. A doctor named Osler found a link between patients who had these lumps (now called Osler’s nodules) and heart infections.
- brownish (or red) discoloration, usually on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
It may tell you: you have an infection in your heart or blood vessels.
The spots on the bottom of this patient’s legs are also a sign of a heart infection called infective endocarditis. Unlike Osler’s nodes, these spots are not painful. These spots do not require treatment and usually disappear within a few days to a few weeks. The infection requires treatment.
Medical name: Janeway’s lesion, named after the American physician Theodore Caldwell Janeway.
- There is no irritating rash (flat spots with slightly raised edges) or fever
This tells you: your child has rheumatic fever.
If your child has streptococcal pharyngitis, it is important to treat it as soon as possible. If it is not treated soon, other medical problems can occur. One of them is rheumatic fever. Although there are few cases of rheumatic fever in the United States today, it is common in developing countries.
When a child develops rheumatic fever, it can lead to a lifetime of heart disease. Rheumatic fever is one of the leading causes of heart disease in children.
Medical name: erythema marginatum (the name of the rash in this picture).
- A rash, chapped and swollen lips, often bleeding, and a skin rash on the lips
What does this mean? It means that your child has Kawasaki disease.
If your child has a rash, fever, or extremely dry, cracked, or bleeding lips, he or she may have Kawasaki disease. This disease, which affects blood vessels, usually occurs in children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years.
While Kawasaki disease can heal on its own within 12 days, it can cause serious side effects, such as heart disease.
Medical name: cutaneous mucosal lymph node syndrome (another name for Kawasaki disease)
If you notice any of these signs, see your doctor and try to remain calm. The signs may be harmless, but it’s important to get checked out. Heart disease is easier to treat when caught early.