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Cholesterol – the super-stealthy invisible illness

As far as invisible illnesses go, they don’t come much stealthier than high cholesterol. It’s easily ignored because it builds up gradually, often showing no symptoms whatsoever. A person with high or increasing cholesterol levels will most likely feel perfectly healthy. It’s a scary though that the first sign of high cholesterol may be a heart attack or stroke – and could even prove fatal!

Fortunately, medical professionals from the pharmaceutical industry recognise the significance of this sneaky condition. At research clinics like Covance in Leeds, many new treatments for high cholesterol (or ‘dyslipidemia’) are tested each year. Cholesterol remains in sharp focus for the majority of the world’s most influential drugs companies.

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But how will you know if you need help lowering your cholesterol levels? There are a few tell-tale signs which can be spotted early in some cases, like fatty deposits around the eyelids or a white ring around the iris of the eye. Acute leg pain can also suggest high cholesterol, as blocked arteries affect blood circulation to the extremities. However, these symptoms are not always caused by high cholesterol, and they will not always present themselves if your cholesterol level gets too high. Often, it is worth having your levels checked even if you feel absolutely fine, particularly if anyone in your family has a history of high cholesterol or heart disease, or if you a smoker, overweight or lead a sedentary lifestyle.

During and after the menopause, your chances of having high cholesterol are also significantly higher (isn’t that typical!?). Estrogen has a protecting effect on the body, helping to raise HDL levels (the good type of cholesterol) and keeping LDL (the bad stuff) at bay. After natural or surgical menopause, less estrogen is produced, and the body has a much tougher time keeping the bad stuff in check. When women are found to have high cholesterol before the menopause, this is treated aggressively to prevent cholesterol levels from hitting dangerous highs after the change!

So, how do we go about battling this hidden terror? Whether you have high cholesterol which you wish to control, or you want to prevent yourself from getting high cholesterol, the first lines of defence are lifestyle changes. Stopping smoking, taking more exercise and reducing alcohol intake are proven ways to help reduce LDL cholesterol. There’s also lots of foods you can eat more of to help with the issue (let’s face it, it’s always feels better to add food to your diet than remove it, doesn’t it!?). These include –

  • Soya
  • Nuts
  • Oats and Barley
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Oily fish like mackerel, salmon and tuna

In cases where these lifestyle changes don’t make enough difference, medical help is at hand. The most common type of cholesterol-lowering medications are statins, and a 1989 study showed that these reduce the risk of heart attacks by a third. Statins have several different brand names including simvastatin, atorvastatin and lovastatin, and are used by over 6 million people worldwide.

However, everyone is different, and in some cases statins alone can’t reduce cholesterol enough to keep patients risk-free. Others may be statin intolerant, and experience side-effects which make long-term use impossible. Despite statins being a useful weapon in our arsenal, we still have a long way to go to defeat high cholesterol.

Whatever your own cholesterol level, you can join in the battle by participating in a clinical trial with Covance. They are currently looking for paid volunteers for 2 different studies – one for 18-75 year olds who do use statins (click here for details) and one for 18 – 55 year olds who do not use statins (click here for details). Why not apply today, and speak out against a silent killer!

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Linda Parkinson-Hardman

Transformational coach and founder of the Hysterectomy Association. Professionally I'm an information scientist who specialises in the adoption and engagement of digital technologies. I am a writer and author of nine books to date, and I've edited a further seven; phew what a lot for a Thursday afternoon :-)

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I had a hysterectomy Jan 15, 2015. I have been experiencing stiff and painful legs for a couple weeks now. I read that menopause cause stiff joints so I assumed that is what was happening. I have had cholesterol issues in the past but have keep it controlled. Is this something to be concerned about

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