See the yellow spots in the image below, in the skin around the eyes?
These spots are called xanthelasma or xanthelasmata (plural).Â They are deposits of cholesterol under the skin, usually near the eyes but can be elsewhere.Â Â Â (Cholesterol gives them their yellow color).Â They are soft, painless, and do not interfere with vision.Â Usually people with these yellow spots often go to their dermatologist, and they can be simply treated to remove them.Â Â Perhaps, people with xanthelasma should go to their medical doctor as well, because having these yellow spots indicates an increased risk of having a heart attack, other heart problems, or even death.Â According to a very large study presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association, having xanthelasmata raised the risk of heart attacks by 51%, the risk of having other heart problems by 40%, and the risk of dying by 17%.Â Â Half the people in this study with these spots had normal levels of cholesterol in their blood, and still had elevated risks of having heart trouble.
“We have long observed that patients with xanthelasmata and xanthomas on the elbows are at risk of cardiovascular events,” said Richard Stein, MD, professor of cardiology at the New York University School of Medicine. “What was surprising about this study to me was that 50% of the patients who had xanthelasmata had what was considered normal levels of cholesterol.”
Xanthelasmata can be an indicator of heart problems even if your cholesterol is normal.Â Having these yellow spots does not mean you have heart disease, but it does increase the risk that you do. If you have questions or concerns about heart disease, please consult your doctor.