• Sara x

Today I got the strangest compliment ever...

I have lovely, buoyant, springy veins that you can tap without even using a tourniquet. Wow.

Not being someone who basks in self-confidence, I have a dreadful feeling that my veins might be my best feature.

I got this slightly off-the-wall compliment as I collected my cholesterol test results.

Before Tim's heart attack, cholesterol was something smiling old people used to have in adverts for spreads. They'd turn up with high cholesterol, put spread on their toast and tatties for a fortnight, and then be giddy when their cholesterol went down. They'd then always be filmed walking or cycling through a green park having the times of their lives.

So because of that, it never occurred to me think about my own cholesterol levels. Surely that was something you worried about when you got old and wore gilets and shoes with good grip a lot?

As it turns out, it's probably too late by then. Why start trying to prevent a heart attack when your cholesterol is already high? Why not prevent it from being high in the first place?

I paid privately (technically I'm not high-risk and felt bad for burdening the overstretched NHS) to have a full cholesterol screening, including the not-routinely-done Lipoprotein (a) test. It was about £40 for the main test.

My dad has high cholesterol and has been on statins for years, and with everything that happened to Tim, I was curious to know what levels of fats I had coursing through my veins.

After fasting for 12 hours and drinking plenty of water to make my claret flow, I visited a local clinic and had the most painless blood test ever. Dr. Will strapped my arm up, popped the needle in and took two vials of blood, all in about 30 seconds. I got a tiny plaster to cover my war wound, and within two hours I was boxing at the gym. I didn't even bruise.

Less than a week later I got my results.

During the test, they routinely check for the overall cholesterol level, the good high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and the bad low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the level of triglycerides, and the total non-HDL cholesterol.

Let me go through them.

The overall cholesterol figure is the total amount found in your blood sample. Ideally it should be less than 5 millimoles per litre (mmol/l).

  • My result: 3.4 mmol/l.

The levels of HDL in your blood, known as the 'good' cholesterol, should be between 1.2 and 1.7 mmol/l if you're female and over 1 mmol/l if you're male.

Good cholesterol transports cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver for breaking down.

  • My result: 1.3 mmol/l.

The LDL, or bad cholesterol, should be no more than 3 mmol/l.

Bad cholesterol is delivered from the liver around your body, and if your levels are too high, it can build up in arteries (called atheroma), make them become narrow, stiff and constricted (called atherosclerosis) and cause heart attacks and strokes.

  • My result: 1.9 mmol/l.

Triglycerides, a form of dietary fat found in meats, dairy and cooking oil, plus some produced naturally by the liver, are either used for energy or stored as fat. The test results will reveal the body's ability to clear fat from blood after a meal.

After a fasting test, results should be 1.7 mmol/l or less, and less than 2.3mmol/l after a non-fasting blood test.

  • My result: 0.4 mmol/l.

I was also checked for the percentage of total cholesterol made up by my HDL. It should be 20% or higher.

  • My result: 38%.

The total non-HDL cholesterol is calculated by taking the total cholesterol, minus the HDL, and is the sum of all the bad cholesterol, including the LDL. Ideal results are 3.9 mmol/l or less.

  • My result: 2.1 mmol/l.

I also had an additional test to check my levels of Lipoprotein (a) (known as Lp(a) for short). This test looks for your future risk of heart disease, and will flag up any underlying conditions or genetic issues.

LP(a) is a large and sticky protein particle, which is made in the liver and found in the blood's plasma. High levels of Lp(a) increases your risk of cardiovascular disease by causing narrowing and harding of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and also interferes with the body's clotting mechanisms, increasing the risk of blood clots and artery blockages.

High levels of it can indicate other things such as oestrogen depletion, hypercholesteralaemia (high levels of blood cholesterol), an over active or under active thyroid, uncontrolled diabetes, kidney failure or a kidney disorder called nephrotic syndrome.

This test isn't done routinely but it's recommended that people with a moderate or high risk of heart disease should have their levels taken so doctors can check your other risk factors.

The interesting and quite unnerving thing about Lp(a) is that the levels do not usually change throughout our lives, are often unaffected by lifestyles and environments, and aren't normally affected by medication. Advice for those with high levels of it is to treat the things you can change, such as lowering your bad cholesterol and raising the good, and maybe taking a baby aspirin to reduce your risk of clots.

A result of over 75 nanomoles per litre (nmol/l) is considered to be a sign of an increased risk of heart disease.

  • My result: <7 nmol/l. I'm pleased with that one.

I was strangely nervous about the results of these tests, but I hoped for something positive as I was ten weeks into our new diet. My results are low, and I'm so pleased, and I hope our new lifestyle is in part responsible.

We'll find out for certain in a few weeks when Tim visits his consultant for a three-month check-up.

Hopefully, like the old dears in the adverts, this will be us...

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