National Cholesterol Month: All You Need to Know
October has arrived and as well as meaning the days are quickly going to become colder and shorter, this month also marks National Cholesterol Month. Dedicated to raising awareness of the causes of and medication for cholesterol, the 31-day campaign is addressing one of the most common medical issues to impact people in Britain.
Statistics show that more than half of adults in England have raised cholesterol. So, to help educate people about cholesterol, what it is and how to keep yours in check, here’s Pharmacy Outlet’s useful factsheet.
What is cholesterol?
Simply put, cholesterol is a fatty substance carried by proteins that can be found in people’s blood. It is a vital substance for the body to function properly; however, too much of it in the blood can trigger serious health problems.
Cholesterol comes in two main forms: high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) and low-density lipoprotein (LDLs). HDLs are responsible for taking cholesterol from cells towards the liver to be broken down and disposed of; while LDLs carry cholesterol towards cells for it to be used, but if there is more than is needed it can build up on artery walls, causing blood-flow issues.
How do you get high cholesterol and what are risks?
Cholesterol is produced by the liver but also found in certain foods, particularly those with high levels of saturated fats such as red meat, butter, cream, hard cheeses, cakes and biscuits. Consuming too much of these types of food can result in someone having high cholesterol.
Other causes include smoking, excessive alcohol intake, a lack of physical exercise and underlying medical conditions. People who suffer from medical conditions like type 2 diabetes, liver or kidney disease, and hypothyroidism can often also suffer from raised cholesterol levels.
Having high amounts of cholesterol in the blood can cause various health issues, including:
- A narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Heart attacks
- Stroke and Transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs), or “mini stroke”
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
How can you measure you cholesterol and what is normal?
To test you cholesterol levels, a blood sample is taken to determine the amount of HDLs and LDLs in your body.
An average person’s total cholesterol levels should be:
- 5mmol/L millimols per litre of blood (mmol/l), or less for healthy adults
- 4mmol/L or less for those at high risk
Meanwhile, your LDL levels should typically be:
- 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults
- 2mmol/L or less for those at high risk
What should you do if you have high cholesterol?
For those whose cholesterol is above the recommended levels (see above), there are a number of lifestyle changes and medical treatments that are advised.
One of the easiest ways to combat high cholesterol is to avoid many of the most common triggers. This includes reducing the amount of foods you eat that are rich in saturated fats, stopping smoking, cutting back on alcohol intake, and exercising more.
Aside from these lifestyle changes, there are cholesterol-lowering medications available, such as statins. However, these drugs that help lower your body’s cholesterol level also have a range of side-effects that can outweigh their benefits.
For anyone, particularly those over 40, who has not recently had their cholesterol tested, it is advisable that they visit a doctor or GP to ensure they are not at risk. For those whose cholesterol must be brought under control, your pharmacist, GP or doctor will be on hand to provide the necessary advice and medication to help you do so.
Advice from Heart UK
Cholesterol charity Heart UK offers the following advice and guidance to those taking medication to lower their blood fats:
- It is up to your doctor who, based upon an assessment of your overall risk of heart and circulatory disease, will advise you if you should be taking medication
- Out of the wide range of medicines available for those needing to manage their cholesterol level, the most common are statins. These work by blocking cholesterol production in the liver
- Taking statins or any other medication to combat cholesterol-related issues does not lessen the importance on eating healthily and being active
- While largely very safe, statins can trigger problems in some people. If this happens your GP or doctor can recommend other medication or refer you to a lipid clinic for more expert advice
- Statins are not suitable for everyone; for example, they are typically not prescribed for young children while women who are trying to conceive, are pregnant or breastfeeding should usually avoid taking them
For those requiring repeat prescriptions to manage their cholesterol level, Pharmacyoutlet’s NHS Electronic Repeat Prescription Service (EPS) means that patients can get their prescriptions re-ordered and delivered free, straight to your home.