Don’t Miss a Beat With October’s National Cholesterol Month
8th October 2015
National Cholesterol MonthMedical Specialists® Pharmacy are proudly supporting October’s National Cholesterol Month 2015, organised by the charity HEART UK to raise more awareness about what cholesterol is, the often underestimated serious health risks associated with high cholesterol, and what can be done to lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – also known as ‘bad cholesterol’.

What is cholesterol?

For those unaware of what cholesterol actually is, it is a fatty, waxy substance known as a ‘lipid’, located in all of the body’s cells. The body requires some cholesterol to produce hormones, vitamin D, and substances to aid food digestion, and will produce what it needs, but some of the food we eat also contains cholesterol. Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in small packages that go by the name of lipoproteins. The two main types of lipoprotein are: . High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – HDL carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it's either broken down or passed out of the body as a waste product. For this reason, HDL is referred to as ‘good cholesterol’ and higher levels are better. . Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – LDL carries cholesterol to the cells that need it. If there's too much cholesterol for the cells to use, it can build up in the artery walls, leading to disease of the arteries. For this reason, LDL is known as ‘bad cholesterol’. High cholesterol – i.e. high levels of the bad LDL cholesterol - itself will not usually cause any symptoms, but it increases a person’s risk of serious health problems. For example, plenty of evidence shows that high cholesterol can raise the risk of suffering with heart attack, heart disease, stroke, narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), transient ischaemic attack (known as a ‘mini-stroke’) and peripheral arterial disease. These risks are due to the fact cholesterol accumulate within the artery wall, reducing blood flow to the heart, brain and other areas of the body. In addition, the risk of a blood clot is also increased with high cholesterol.

What causes high cholesterol?

There are a number of contributing factors to a person having high blood cholesterol, some lifestyle choices, others being related to underlying conditions and there is also a risk if there has been a family history of such problems. Lifestyle choices that can cause high cholesterol include a lack of exercise or physical activity, drinking too much alcohol, having a diet high in saturated fat and being a smoker. People with diabetes or high blood pressure usually also have high cholesterol. Highlighting the risks of ‘The Silent Killer’ high cholesterol is imperative for HEART UK during National Cholesterol Month for many reasons, but one of those is to educate people about a condition many will not be aware of, but can be deadly - Familial hypercholesterolaemia (often shortened to FH). FH is inherited, passed on by one of your parents and can cause incredibly high levels of cholesterol. Those with FH have high cholesterol levels from birth, whereas most people’s cholesterol increases with age and could be 50, 60 or 70 years of age before their cholesterol is deemed to be at a level linked to an increased risk of major heart problems. Some people may never display any symptoms, but the common signs of FH are lumps and bumps around the knuckles or Achilles tendon (due to cholesterol deposits), yellow cholesterol build-up around the eyes and eyelids, or a pale ring around the iris. If, after going to the doctor for a cholesterol check and it is found to be significantly high, the doctor may refer the patient to a specialist for an assessment if he or she believes that patient has FH, which could include gene tests. The specialist will then explain which family members need to be assessed too and medication will likely be required, as healthy lifestyle choices alone are not enough to reduce cholesterol for anyone with FH.

Treating high cholesterol

Adhering to a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat and engaging in regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight/BMI can lower the level of cholesterol in the blood, or prevent cholesterol levels being too high to begin with. The higher the cholesterol level, the higher the risk of stroke or heart disease and therefore the overall risk of having a heart attack. Statin treatments available today from Medical Specialists®, such as Atorvastatin, Pravastatin or Rosuvastatin, work to lower the LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and raise the HDL (‘good’) cholesterol. Statins may be prescribed to certain people with risk factors for heart conditions, such as those with high cholesterol or high blood pressure, older patients, smokers, or those with family history of early heart disease. Between eight and ten million Britons take statins, making them the most widely prescribed drugs across the UK.

Get involved with National Cholesterol Month

HEART UK are providing expert, independent advice on statins and other cholesterol treatments, in addition to campaigning for improved detection of those at risk of high cholesterol and offering training for health professionals. National Cholesterol Month 2014 was a roaring success, with more than £25,000 raised, but HEART UK are hoping to smash this amount for 2015, continuing with the theme the ‘Great Cholesterol Challenge’. HEART UK state on their website how people can get involved and acquire a fundraising pack, saying: “Treat your heart by pledging to adopt a new healthy habit and raise funds for HEART UK at the same time! For this year's campaign we have developed some really exciting 'virtual challenges' which we know you will love - see how you can get involved! “Great Cholesterol Challenge packs are available now! If you would like a pack or need any further information about this year's campaign, please email us and we will get one sent to you.” Moreover, HEART UK offer advice on who should have cholesterol tests and how frequently to get one done:
  •     Every 5 years if you are between the ages of 40 and 75.
  •     Every 12 months if you are on cholesterol lowering medication.
  •     Any child of a parent with inherited high cholesterol (FH) - by the age of 10.
  •     First degree relatives of a person with FH - on being told of the risk.
“The NHS will provide you with a free cholesterol test if you fall into any of the above groups, speak to your Doctor or Practice Nurse about arranging your cholesterol test.”