Am I heading for a heart attack?

(The Independent) — This is a story about cholesterol: a story that affects me, you and the people you love. It’s not a simple story, but it is an important one. And it starts in February of this year, when I had some routine blood tests and my GP called me to discuss the results.

“It’s your cholesterol,” she said in that distracted, doctorish way. “It’s very high – 7.4 – so you’ll need to see the nurse and we might have to put you on statins.”

Gobsmacked, I spluttered a reply and hung up. Statins! For a 43-year-old, fit and healthy man. Not just that, but a health writer, who a couple of years ago wrote in this paper about the profound effect observing a triple bypass had had on me, and my determination to exercise well, eat better and generally do everything in my power not to end up on under that heart surgeon’s knife.

Even more ironic, I now combine writing with practising as a wellbeing coach, advising clients how to manage their stress and improve their mental/physical health. All in all, not too good.

I visited the practice nurse, who took my blood pressure – fine, thank God – and calculated my “cardiac risk”. This combines various factors, such as whether you smoke, your age, weight, blood pressure, family history – and, of course, cholesterol level – to determine your risk of cardiovascular disease in the next decade. Happily, my risk was low, because, apart from the dodgy cholesterol, I was in good shape.

The result? I was given the standard NHS advice: drastically reduce my intake of saturated fat, especially fatty meats, dairy products, biscuits, chocolate and cake . “Try that for three months and, if your cholesterol score doesn’t improve, we’ll put you on statins,” the nurse announced, breezily.


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