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My husband was recently introduced to the topic of cholesterol following a routine health review. A blood test taken at the time indicated a raised reading of 5.6. The Gp telephoned him a few days later to discuss the findings and his subsequent options. He found the subject matter quite difficult to comprehend making the conversation difficult to follow. He is a man who generally takes little interest in his health as fortunately for him he hasn’t had to. Subsequently, he was left unsure of the best way to proceed. When I returned home later in the day he quickly updated me on the situation.
As a retired nurse, I recognized that his lack of knowledge regarding cholesterol had left him vulnerable. While I appreciate not everybody has a keen interest in health issues, knowledge is power. So when it comes to making decisions or knowing what questions to ask a little understanding can be a great benefit. So for those of you who like it short and sweet because you have better things to do…
Keeping it Simple | What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a blood fat which plays an essential role in how all of our cells work. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D and substances to help you digest your food. It is mainly made by the liver but can be found in some foods:
- Egg yolks
- Dairy products (including milk, cheese and ice cream)
Foods that are high in saturated fats and trans fat can increase the liver’s production of cholesterol.
To travel through the bloodstream cholesterol combines with proteins. When they travel together they are called lipoproteins
Types of Cholesterol and its Effects
LDL (BAD) Low-Density Lipoprotein
HDL (GOOD) High- Density Lipoprotein
Bad Cholesterol (LDL) – can build up on the arterial walls. Together with other substances in the blood, plaque can form and cause stiffness, narrowing or blockage of blood vessels. This environment can also make it easier for blood clots to develop. These conditions can lead to a reduction in blood flow to vital organs, heart attack or stroke.
Good Cholesterol (HDL) – carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver where it is broken down and removed.
Triglycerides Another type of fat found in your blood. Necessary for health but in excess may be harmful. Levels are measured at the same time as cholesterol.
Causes of High Cholesterol
- Eating fatty food
- Not exercising enough
- Being overweight
- Drinking alcohol
How to Lower your Cholesterol
Eat healthily Cut down on saturated fat, e.g. meat pies, sausages, cakes, biscuits, butter. Eat more oily fish, brown rice, brown bread, brown pasta, fruit and veg, nuts and seeds.
Get more exercise Anything that increases the heart rate (link to walking blog)
Cut down on alcohol
Stop smoking (NHS Stop Smoking Service)
Medication The most common being Statins. They reduce the amount of cholesterol your body makes. There are other medications for high cholesterol. Heart UK has more information on these.
How to Get Tested
Ask your GP surgery for a cholesterol check if you have not had a test before and you’re over 40, overweight, or heart problems or high cholesterol problems run in your family.
Visit your pharmacist.
Your cholesterol test will involve either a blood sample taken from your arm using a needle and syringe, which will then be sent off for testing. Or a finger prick test which will give you an immediate result. You can usually eat and drink normally before testing. Your healthcare professional will explain your results to you. Ask for a print out of your results in case you want to look anything up later. The interpretation of your results will be made in relation to any other risk factors/existing health conditions.
Listed Results | General Guide Only
|Total Cholesterol||Below 5.0|
|LDL – Bad cholesterol||Below 3.0|
|Non – HDL (Total cholesterol minus your HDL)||Below 4.0|
|HDL – Good cholesterol||Above 1.0 male/1.2 female|
|TC: HDL ratio||Lower the figure the better -Above 6 high risk|
Want to know more?
If you are over 30 years and know your cholesterol results together with a recent blood pressure reading visit – NHS Heart Age Tool to assess your risk of developing heart disease over the next 10 years.
I hope this information will encourage you to feel able to contribute to any decisions made regarding your own health and well being in this area.
Knowing a little more about any health issues will enable you to act in partnership with health care providers and feel a little less vulnerable at a time when you often don’t feel at your strongest.