H·E·A·R·T UK, the cholesterol charity, welcomes new plans announced by the Prime Minister today for a national screening programme to identify the early signs of heart disease. Gordon Brown made the announcement today as part of a Health Service drive towards a more personal and preventative approach to medicine.

Cholesterol is the single greatest risk factor for the nation's biggest killer, coronary heart disease, contributing to almost half of all coronary heart disease-related deaths in the UK. Cholesterol is also a major risk factor in stroke and it contributes to the increased risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease) associated with diabetes and obesity.1

“ It is a sad fact that a significant proportion of the UK population has undesirably high cholesterol levels which put them at risk of heart disease and stroke”, commented Dr Anthony Wierzbicki, Chairman of the H·E·A·R·T UK Medical, Scientific & Research Committee.  “For many of us these levels are avoidable by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Some people require medication which is usually very effective at controlling cholesterol levels and reducing risk.  For those who remain unaware that they are at high risk of heart disease or stroke, a screening programme is to be welcomed as a first step towards preventing avoidable deaths.”

Whilst many who are aware they have high cholesterol levels will be able to control this by changes in their diet and lifestyle, up to half a million people in the UK (1 in a 100) have some kind of inherited high cholesterol (IHC) which is more likely to require treatment and it is probable that, of these, less than 15% have been diagnosed.2

Cathy Ratcliffe of H·E·A·R·T UK added:  “H·E·A·R·T UK has been campaigning for a cohesive approach to screening to cut the number of deaths from heart disease and stroke for some time. We hope to see investment made to support high quality cholesterol testing as part of the government’s programme.” 

For further information contact the H·E·A·R·T UK helpline on 0845 450 5988, or visit www.heartuk.org.uk

Notes for editors:
Key facts about cardiovascular disease

·         In 2005 cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart disease and stroke, killed over 208,000 people: that’s around four out of every ten deaths.3

·         CVD kills more men and women in the UK than any other disease

·         Coronary heart disease is responsible for almost nine times more deaths in women than breast cancer.4

·         By 2020 heart disease will be the leading cause of disablement in the UK.5

·         It is estimated that the cost to UK annual productivity due to coronary heart disease is £2.9bn. Most of this is due to inability to work.6

·         There are a number of risk factors for heart disease. These are: smoking, being overweight or obese, being physically inactive, having high blood pressure, having high cholesterol, having diabetes or having a family history of heart disease. The more of these you have the greater your risk of developing heart disease.

Cholesterol levels
Everyone has cholesterol in their blood stream and a certain amount of cholesterol is essential for good health. Research has shown that the higher your cholesterol level, the higher is your risk of a heart attack. The average cholesterol level in the UK, where heart disease is common, is much higher than in communities that experience lower levels of heart disease. Some people are born with a genetic defect that results in very high cholesterol levels. These people are at extremely high risk of a heart attack at an early age. Numerous clinical trials have shown that cholesterol reduction (by whatever means, but most commonly by statins) results in a reduction in risk of a heart attack. Cholesterol levels are measured on a scale (called Millemoles per litre). The average total cholesterol level in the UK is approximately 5.5mmol/l in men and 5.6mmol/l in women, although many people have much higher levels.

For those at high risk of cardiovascular disease, Government and NHS targets recommend total cholesterol levels of less than 5mmol/l and LDL cholesterol levels of less than 3mmol/l, or a 30% reduction from the current level (whichever is the lower).7 However, latest guidance developed by the Joint British Societies, recommends that the treatment targets for those at high risk of cardiovascular disease should be a total cholesterol of 4mmol/l or a 25% reduction (whichever is the lower) and an LDL cholesterol of 2mmol/l or a 30% reduction (whichever is the lower).8


1.     Department of Health, Health Survey  for England 2003, Volume 2, 'Risk factors for cardiovascular disease'

2.     Cholesterol Crisis Report, H·E·A·R·T UK , 2007

3.     Coronary Heart Disease Statistics 2007, British Heart Foundation

4.     Petersen S, Peto V, Rayner M, Leal J,Luengo-Fernandez R and Gray A (2005). European cardiovascular disease statistics. BHF: London

5.     Murray CJ and Lopez AD, Alternative projections of mortality and disability by cause 1990-2020: Global, Burden of Disease Study. Lancet 1997 May 24;349(9064):1498-504.

6.     Liu J L Y, Maniadakis N, Gray A, Rayner M The economic burden of coronary heart disease in the UK Heart 2002:88; 597-603, Table 2

7.     National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease. Department of Health (2000)

8.     Joint British Societies' Guidelines on Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Clinical Practice, Heart 2005; 91 (Suppl V):v1-v52.

Healthcare Republic does not have an editorial influence or input in to these press releases. The views expressed within these documents are not endorsed by Healthcare Republic or Haymarket Medical Publications Limited.

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