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02 March 2018

Heart UKCoronary Heart Disease is the UK's biggest killer and has a devastating effect on families as well as placing extra cost an presssure on an already stretched healthcare system. 

Heart attacks and strokes account for more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK, so while breast cancer quite rightly has featured in many campaigns targeted at women, the biggest killer is still heart disease.

Raised blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart and other cardiovascular diseases and increases the chance of someone having a heart attack or stroke.


HEART UK – The Cholesterol Charity – is the only charity in the UK dedicated to supporting people with raised cholesterol and other blood fats and also supporting the healthcare professionals treating these conditions. The charity’s aim is to prevent avoidable and early deaths caused by high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. HEART UK are committed to raising awareness about the risks of high cholesterol, lobbying for better detection of those at risk and supporting healthcare professional training.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is an essential fat, small amounts of which are found in foods like full-fat dairy products, egg yolks, shellfish, liver and kidneys. But most of our cholesterol is made by the liver.

Why is cholesterol needed?

Cholesterol is essential to make hormones and other messenger chemicals – for example it’s a building block of vitamin D, needed to help with growth and the repair of cells, and for digestion. Too much however can be unhealthy for the arteries and heart.

What’s the difference between ‘bad’ and ‘good’ cholesterol? Cholesterol travels around your blood, packaged up in protein particles called lipoproteins. An excess of LDL (low density lipoprotein), aka ‘bad’ cholesterol, increases your risk of heart disease. HDL (high density lipoprotein), aka ‘good’ cholesterol meanwhile picks up excess cholesterol from tissues and arteries and ferries it back to your liver for disposal. Your balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol is one factor in your risk of heart disease.

A healthy lifestyle

For the majority of adults, un- healthy cholesterol levels are a result of a modern day diet and lifestyle – of an increasingly

sedentary way of life, eating too much saturated fat and factors such as smoking and increasing waistlines. Eating better, such as following a Mediterranean diet which is low in saturated fat and high in fruit and vegetables, in addition to more physical activity, can help bring choles- terol levels down. Medicines such as statins are sometimes needed but are not a replacement for these important changes to the way someone lives, but an additional help when the risk of a heart attack and stroke is high.

Inherited high cholesterol

For anyone with the inherited form of high cholesterol – Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (often shorted to FH), medicines

Is cholesterol putting you at risk?

such as statins are a life-long need from an early age to manage very high cholesterol and prevent very early death.

Cholesterol can be at extreme and dangerous levels if left untreated, even if people with FH eat a healthy diet, are slim and active. Individuals of any age can be affected by FH, as the gene is passed down from parent to child. If identified early and properly treated, people with FH can live to a healthy old age. But early identification is absolutely key.

Beth’s story:

“When I was three my father died from a heart attack. He was only 34 years old. Then, at the age of about seven, I began developing migraines, and because of my father’s early death, my older sister and I were taken to have our blood tested.

“Both my sister and I had high cholesterol, mine was very high. Even at this young age my cholesterol levels were about 10.

“With less knowledge and support about cholesterol around at that time, my mum found it difficult to manage our cholesterol levels, especially when we were teenagers. Through lack of information and help, I began to resent going for treatment and found that as I got into my 20s no matter how strict I was with what I ate, I could not lower my cholesterol.

“At times I ignored the fact that I had high cholesterol but as I began to reach 30 and nearing the age of my father’s death, I went and got a referral to a specialist who explained that I had Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH).

“I spoke to HEART UK who gave me hope that FH was a diagnosis and not a death sentence.

“I am still careful with my diet and ensure I exercise and live a healthy normal life. Everyone should be aware of what they eat and the only difference is that I have to take statins to control my cholesterol.

“Cholesterol is a hidden killer, you may not know you have it and if you do, it is very easy to ignore because there are no warning symptoms.”

  • HEART UK offers free and impartial advice on ways to manage cholesterol; check out our website, our wide range of literature, email or call our Cholesterol Helpline.We also have information on what food to eat to effectively lower cholesterol as well as tips on what to avoid and lots of useful recipes. We receive no Government funding and rely on the generosity of people like you to help support our vital lifesaving work. We are delighted that we partner with Intersecond (i-collect) who help us raise funds through donated clothing. For further information, or to make a donation please visit our website –

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