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High cholesterol: beating the build-up during Cholesterol Month

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October marks Cholesterol Month which is led by HEART UK, the UK’s Cholesterol charity. The annual awareness month aims to increase knowledge around high cholesterol, including how you can find out your levels and what to do about it.

Cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, are among the most common causes of death and ill health in the UK, and it’s no secret that high cholesterol is recognised as one of the main risk factors.

Public Health England recognises that we need to do all we can to reduce the number of people with high cholesterol.

Six out of ten adults in England have high cholesterol, with many completely unaware that they have it. While high cholesterol itself doesn't usually cause any symptoms, it does increase a person’s risk of serious health conditions.

It’s important for us to all know our cholesterol numbers and what is a normal level.  Cholesterol levels are measured with a simple blood test, which determines your levels of bad cholesterol (or LDL), good cholesterol (HDL) and triglycerides (other fatty substances in your blood). LDL cholesterol can build up on your arteries’ walls and increase your risk of heart disease, so a lower LDL is better for your health. HDL cholesterol helps take LDL cholesterol out of your blood, so a higher HDL is positive.

While most of us know that we should watch our cholesterol, many of us fail to get it checked.

According to a recent PHE survey, less than half of men (46%) aged 40-60 had had their cholesterol checked in the last year, and around a third (31%) either couldn’t remember or knew that they had never had a check, despite the fact that most recognised the risks from high cholesterol.

The NHS Health Check offers an opportunity for those aged 40-74 to have a check-up, which includes measuring cholesterol amongst other things such as blood pressure and diabetes risk. Your health professional will also be able to explain what your results mean, including your levels of good and bad cholesterol.

The programme also provides essential follow-up care, including lifestyle interventions if high cholesterol is detected. People can be offered advice and support to help them achieve a healthy level of cholesterol. It’s therefore beneficial for people to take up their appointment when invited, even if they feel healthy and don’t have any symptoms.

Those not yet of eligible age (40+) or who are waiting for their NHS Health Check invitation can take the following steps to manage their cholesterol by making healthy lifestyle choices, such as:

  • Reducing the amount of saturated fat in their diet
  • Eating foods that contain unsaturated fat
  • Eating plenty of high fibre foods; adults should aim for 30g a day
  • Doing around 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week
  • Quitting smoking, which can increase the risk of getting heart attacks and strokes.

There’s more to be done to reduce the impact of cardiovascular related diseases in England, but by working to improve uptake of important preventative programmes such as the NHS Health Check we can help to alleviate the burden this risk factor has on people’s lives.

Public Health England survey, September 2015. Interviews were conducted with 359 men aged 40-60 in England from 25th August-1st September 2015, using OnLineBus, the TNS internet omnibus survey.

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