By Hannah Sherwood
For those of you who read the cholesterol feature in September’s issue of HFG, you will have seen my mug shot alongside how I discovered that I have high cholesterol at the age of 23. Quite a shock, as I am generally in good health, have a healthy diet, am not overweight and exercise regularly. So what happened next?
My cholesterol journey so far
First step: discovery at a cholesterol seminar I attended for work that I had high cholesterol.
Second step: fasting blood test to confirm the cholesterol reading.
Third step: lipid clinic…
At the lipid clinic I was weighed and measured and had my blood pressure taken by a nurse before seeing the doctor. The doctor ran through how I’d ended up at the clinic today and remarked (yet again) at how I was the youngest patient he’d seen with high cholesterol. There was heavy focus on my lifestyle and family medical history, and after explaining how my dad has high cholesterol, as does my sister (who panicked after I told her my level and had hers checked immediately), it was becoming more probable that I have familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH), the type of cholesterol you inherit or have from birth.
What is FH?
For one in 500 of the population, a specific genetic defect causes high cholesterol. On all cells of the body, and mainly in the liver, there is a receptor that allows low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the bad kind) to be cleared from the bloodstream. People with FH have a defect in the gene of this LDL-cholesterol receptor. This causes LDL cholesterol to accumulate in the blood and ultimately in the walls of your arteries. Siblings and children of a person with FH have a 50% risk of getting the defect.
The doctor checked for fatty deposits (lumps) around my achilles and the knuckles on my hands, as well as my eyes. These cholesterol deposits are among the symptoms of FH. He checked my heartbeat, which was good, and checked for a pulse in my feet, which was also fine and meant that the blood flow was OK. I had my blood taken again to check for any secondary causes of hypercholesterolaemia.
My cholesterol needs to be brought down to a healthier level. A healthy LDL figure for most people is less than 3mmol/L, for people at high risk, like me, it’s less than 2mmol/L – but mine is 5.8! I was told there's nothing I can do lifestyle or diet-wise that will make a big enough difference, so I need to take statins for life. I was prescribed atorvastatin (1 tablet a day). I'm booked in for a check up in three months to see if the statin is working, and also to check that my body – most importantly my liver – agrees with it.
The bottom line
I was a bit disheartened – being 23 and feeling fit and healthy, the diagnosis seemed unfair. But, as the doctor warned me, having high cholesterol means I’m 10 times more likely to have a heart attack than someone with normal cholesterol levels, so I now see finding out as a blessing in disguise. It means I’ll be able to monitor it and bring it down far earlier than if I’d found out in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time. Who knows what state my arteries might have been in by then?
For more about cholesterol, plus diet tips go to http://www.healthyfood.co.uk/