The surprising heart warnings we shouldn’t ignore

It’s estimated that around half of adults in the UK have high cholesterol, with 7-8 million people currently taking lipid-lowering drugs such as statins, but a study of 2,000 women found that 58% women had no idea what their blood pressure is and 77% do not keep tabs on their cholesterol levels.

10% were even aware that they have a generic coronary heart disease but have not had it checked, and nearly a fifth of women (19%) have not made any lifestyle changes at all to help protect their heart health.

November is National Cholesterol Month, but as research shows, women are missing the vital signs of a heart attack despite all the awareness; they are still not aware that backpain (80%), feeling sick (64%) or feeling light-headed (59%) could also be a signal of a heart disease.

Cholesterol is an essential fat (lipid) found in our blood stream. It is produced by the liver, but also found in various food sources such as full-fat dairy products, egg yolks, shellfish and organ meats.

There are two types of cholesterol: ‘good’ HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol and ‘bad’ cholesterol which is essentially all the other forms of non-HDL-cholesterol (including LDL or low density lipoprotein cholesterol).

An experts opinion

Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director for Healthspan, explains: “Cholesterol is vital for health as it is used by the body to make hormones, vitamin D and bile acids, and maintain healthy cell membranes.”

There are a variety of genetic, health and lifestyle factors that can raise your cholesterol, whether it’s an immediate family member with high cholesterol, having type 2 diabetes, being physically inactive, smoking or following a diet high in animal and saturated fats.

High cholesterol doesn’t necessary cause any symptoms, in most cases it only causes emergency events, but 31% of those surveyed by Healthspan had never had their cholesterol levels checked.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Ameet Bakhai from the Spire Bushey Hospital stresses that regular check-ups and screening are necessary and knowing your numbers (blood pressure/cholesterol/blood sugars) plus knowing your step count as it is vital to keep mobile (4,0000 steps a day is a good benchmark).

Dr Bakhai says: “At pharmacies, you can not only have a conversation about your blood pressure, but you can also get cholesterol checked, you can get your blood sugar levels checked for diabetes. Pharmacies are really stepping up because we’re starting to get empowered to look after our own health.”

“If your cholesterol is normal, then a recheck every 5 years is a good idea. If it’s raised and you are on cholesterol lowering medication, like Statins, it should be checked at least every year or as often as your doctor advises,” Dr Brewer continues.

Women’s heart health symptoms are often milder, they can arise later in the illness and they can be unusual and one third of women with heart disease will experience no chest pain at all. Dr Bakhai advises: “Women don’t automatically experience the crippling chest pain and are as likely to suffer with pain in the arm; shortness of breath and feel sick, sweaty and dizzy. Others report feeling extreme tiredness and sudden panic and confusion. In short, the symptoms can sometimes be subtle and difficult to pinpoint.”

Results from the survey also show that of those women who had suffered a heart attack, 69% of them were taking statins. Statin drugs lower cholesterol by blocking an enzyme (HMG-CoA reductase) in the liver. This enzyme is also needed to make ubiquinol so that blood levels fall by around a half within eight weeks[i].

Women experience different side-effects with statin drugs, for example, with more muscle aches and pains than men which may cause them to stop treatment. These findings were not highlighted in clinical trials due to the small number of women involved.

The lack of ubiquinol may contribute to the muscle side effects and tiredness that some people experience when taking a statin. Dr Brewer suggests trying Healthspan Ubiquinol, (30 capsules £34.95) which includes vitamin B1 to support heart health) as it may help to reduce these unwanted side effects with affecting the cholesterol lowering benefits of statin treatment, according to a study in Molecular Aspects of Medicine.[ii]

A study presented at the 2017 European Society of Cardiology conference revealed those with a history of cardiovascular disease who ate a Mediterranean diet – rich in fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil, garlic and herbs plus moderate amounts of meat and alcohol – had a 37% lower risk of dying than those not on a Med-inspired eating plan. Research has also found that a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce both systolic and diastolic BP by 1-2mm/Hg, and greater reductions were seen in the long term.[iii]

For further advice the Healthspan Heart Hub offers lifestyle dietary advice but for further information about heart health visit the NHS Web site.