A risk worth taking to prevent strokes

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A weekly column by Dr Miles Langdon of South Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group, addressing topical

health issues

Cholesterol is a chemical in the body that does lots of good things.

It is used to make bile acid which helps digest food, male and female sex hormones, and Vitamin D which strengthens bones.

However, too much cholesterol is problematic and can lead to hardening and narrowing of the arteries. This increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Cholesterol is one of many risk factors for heart and stroke and circulation problems.

It is more important to tackle these other factors which include: not smoking, regular physical activity (ideally 30 minutes of sweaty exercise every day), keeping your weight and waist size down and drinking alcohol in moderation.

Ensuring your blood pressure level is not raised (or taking medication to lower it if it is high), and not adding table salt to food is also important.

Looking at the packaging on food can be quite confusing.

It is best to reduce eating saturated fats, such as pastries, cakes, butter, biscuits and cheese because these are high in cholesterol.

Low fat foods are defined as having less than three grams of fat in every 100 grams of food.

Statins are a group of tablets that reduce cholesterol.

Statin therapy is usually recommended for people with heart disease, people who are healthy but have a high risk of developing heart disease at a later date (such as people who have parents or siblings who had heart attacks under the age of 50), and patients who have a very high cholesterol level (above 7.5) because of a faulty gene they have inherited from their parents.

Many people who take statins experience no or very few side effects.

Some people do experience troublesome but usually minor side effects such as achy leg muscles, upset stomachs, headaches or problems sleeping.

If people do experience side effects with one particular statin, then it is quite easy to switch to an alternative statin, or a different cholesterol lowering medication, and give that a go.

Statins do not work properly if taken with grapefruit juice.

There has been media coverage focussing on serious side effects such as kidney failure and memory problems.

The British Heart Foundation reports that only one in every 10,000 people who take statins will experience a potentially dangerous side effect.

The risk of side effects has to be balanced against the benefits of preventing serious conditions such as heart attack and stroke.

Indeed, it is estimated that statins save 7,000 lives a year in the UK.