The ‘silent killer’ 33 million people in the UK might have – but have no idea

MORE than half of Brits have high cholesterol and one in four suffer high blood pressure, a study suggests.

But with both conditions rarely causing symptoms until they progress to something more serious, millions don’t know their health is at risk. 

Over half of Brits – some 33 million – might have silent killer condition cholesterol

Almost 230,000 people were tested as part of a giant research programme, Our Future Health, with 54 per cent found to have high cholesterol and 27 per cent hypertension.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “Millions of people in the UK are living with undetected high blood pressure and raised cholesterol, which can put them at significant risk of a heart attack or stroke.

“Tackling these treatable silent killers must remain a priority if we are to prevent people suffering or dying needlessly.”

Both conditions can also leave people vulnerable to developing diabetes and dementia, but they may be hard to spot without health checks.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in blood which is made by the liver as well as some of the foods you eat.

Your body needs it to build cells and make vitamins and hormones, according to the NHS.

Having high cholesterol means you have too much of the fatty substance in your blood.

While eating too much saturated fat, smoking and not exercising enough can lead to a buildup of cholesterol – clogging your arteries and making you more vulnerable to heart problems or a stroke – the condition can also be inherited.

As for high blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, drinking too much booze, eating too much salt and being overweight can all increase your risk.

You’re also more likely to develop the condition, which strains the blood vessels, heart and other organs, if you’re over the age of 65, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Among volunteers, high cholesterol was mostly identified in people aged 50 to 59 and affected more women – 62 per cent of them compared to 46 per cent of men.

But older volunteers were more likely to have high blood pressure, with 46 per cent of cases spotted in people over 80.

The condition also affected over a third (34 per cent ) of the men taking part, compared to 22 per cent of women.

Those with abnormal cholesterol and blood pressure readings were advised to visit a GP or pharmacist for further advice and treatment. 

With Our Future Health aiming to recruit up to five million volunteers to create a detailed picture of the nation’s health, GP Dr Andrea Mottram said it gave participants the opportunity to identify silent killer conditions before “it’s too late”. 

Meanwhile, Miriam Clark – 66-year-old retired teacher whose extremely high blood pressure was spotted through the programme – said: “The results of my appointment have changed my lifestyle – maybe they’ve even saved my life.

“When I joined Our Future Health, the lowest blood pressure reading the healthcare assistant could get was extremely high.

“She told me to contact my doctor – and my GP told me to go straight to A&E. I went the same day.

“I’ve now had a series of tests to check my heart is working OK and I’ve been given strong medication to bring my blood pressure down.”

Dr Richard Francis, head of research at the Stroke Association called the study “an incredibly important development in stroke prevention”.

“Initial data from the programme has uncovered information that would normally be very challenging to identify,” he explained.

But with up to 90 per cent of strokes being preventable, “a study of this scale has the potential to tell us so much about two of the most common risk factors for stroke and hopefully lead to more research to reduce our risk of stroke,” Dr Francis added.

Anyone over the age of 18 can participate in the study, simply by signing up online, completing an online health questionnaire, and booking a clinic appointment. 

Our Future Health is also collaborating with the NHS to send invitation letters to people living near clinics being rolled out across the UK on a region-by-region basis.

Each clinic appointment involves having a blood sample and physical measurements taken, to glean volunteers’ blood pressure and cholesterol readings as well as further information about their health.

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