At risk from cholesterol -but half don't even know it

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A GLOBAL survey involving 147 million people has revealed those suffering with high cholesterol are not receiving the treatment they need.

High levels of the blood fat are linked with heart disease and stroke - the world's biggest killers - which cost 17 million lives a year.

A study in the journal Bulletin of the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that many people, including those living in Scotland, were unaware that they needed treatment for high cholesterol.

The condition can be easily treated with drugs called statins, which help reduce cholesterol levels and the risks facing those in danger.

The study, carried out by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, examined cholesterol measurements in eight countries - Scotland, England, Germany, Japan, Jordan, Mexico, Thailand and the US - over the last decade.

In most countries, a large proportion of patients with high cholesterol were not diagnosed, including Scotland where 55.5 per cent were unaware that they were vulnerable.

In all the countries, there were several patients who had been diagnosed but were not receiving treatment. In Scotland, this stood at 19.3 per cent. The study also revealed that, in some cases, patients were receiving treatment but their cholesterol remained uncontrolled.

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Researcher Gregory Roth said: "Cholesterol-lowering medication is widely available, highly effective and can play an essential role in reducing cardiovascular disease around the world. Despite these facts, effective medication coverage for control of high cholesterol remains disappointingly low."

Dr Shanthi Mendis, co-ordinator of WHO's chronic diseases prevention and management unit, added: "Simple lifestyle changes such as avoiding tobacco use, regular physical activity and healthy diets can help prevent heart disease and stroke.

"Medication to lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure may be necessary if the risk is very high."

The data used for Scotland in the WHO study dated from 2003, and campaigners said they hoped the situation would have improved since then.

David Clark, chief executive of Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland, said: "One of the problems with statins is there are side effects, as there are with all drugs, so not everyone prescribed them takes them. But there are a range of different statins and the important thing is to find one that does not give you side effects."

Public health minister Shona Robison said: "Combating cholesterol is an important part of our strategy for tackling heart disease in Scotland. This includes substantial investment in cholesterol lowering drugs such as statins and better detection and treatment of high cholesterol."