October is National Cholesterol Month which is devoted to raising awareness of the dangers of high cholesterol and supporting fundraising initiatives.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance made by the body in the liver and also found in some foods. It is vital for the cells in our bodies to function and helps to make bile for digestion, vitamin D and some of our hormones. It is carried around the body in the blood, attached to proteins known as lipoproteins or lipids. When the levels of lipids in our blood are too high, our risk of heart and circulatory diseases increases.
There are two main forms of lipids in our blood: LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein). Each performs a different task. LDL transports cholesterol to cells around the body that need it. HDL has a protective role; it is designed to carry excess cholesterol away from cells to the liver where the cholesterol is broken down or passed out of the body as waste. Often known as ”good cholesterol”, it is better to have high levels of HDL.
If an individual has too much LDL cholesterol and the body’s cells cannot use it all, LDL begins to build up in the walls of the arteries. This build-up restricts the flow of blood to the heart, the brain and the rest of the body; it can also increase the risk of developing a blood clot. Unsurprisingly, LDL is often known as “bad cholesterol”.
Individuals with high cholesterol are at greater risk of heart problems or having a stroke. This is because excess cholesterol is not transported to the liver, and the build-up narrows individuals’ arteries. Many factors lead to individuals developing high cholesterol, including having a family history of stroke or heart disease; smoking; an unhealthy diet or having diabetes or high blood pressure.
High cholesterol is often known as “the silent killer” because, for the majority of individuals, there are no obvious symptoms. Often the first sign is angina (chest pain), or some people may have a heart attack or a stroke. At this point, however, heart and circulatory disease has already been established.
Heart UK, the UK cholesterol charity, aims to provide impartial and informative advice on cholesterol. It recommends that everyone over 40 should have their cholesterol tested every five years.
Camilla Wonnacott, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP, and a member of the cardiology specialist sub-group, comments: “Sadly, we regularly deal with bereaved families who have lost a loved one due to cardiac problems. Early awareness, screening or prompt diagnosis could have made a real difference and, in many cases, saved a life so it is really important to recognise the dangers of high LDL cholesterol.”