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Heart disease risk - a case study

Read Timothy's story. He called us up about three months before his 40th birthday wanting to get his heart checked out.

Timothy called us up about three months before his 40th birthday wanting to get his heart checked out. He hadn’t had a health screen since his 20’s when he worked for a big company which provided health screening for its employees. Since then, he’d moved on and so had the years. Although he got a clean bill of health in his 20’s, how had he fared in the 12 years since his last check?

Like all our customers, Timothy was asked to complete a comprehensive health questionnaire so that our health screening nurses can put his results into the context of his medical history, his lifestyle and his family history. On paper Timothy looked to be in great shape, he was a long distance runner, had a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) and a waist measurement of only 32 inches (a big waist can be indicative of fat stored around the internal organs, including the heart, and is a risk factor for heart disease). So why was he concerned specifically about his heart?

“It’s because my father had a heart attack at 51, needing a triple bypass operation and it was touch and go for a while. I’ve a young son and I would hate to put him through all the worry we felt after my father had his heart attack” explains Timothy. “The interesting thing is that on paper my father would have looked as healthy as I do – he was a regular exerciser and was (and still is) very slim – in fact his fitness was probably what saved him. The only difference I can see between us is that he probably suffered from higher stress levels than I do”

The Medichecks nurse advised Timothy to have the Heart Disease Risk Test, a blood test that looks at two hidden risk factors for heart disease: cholesterol levels and inflammation. She explained that although Timothy was slim and ate a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, he might have inherited high cholesterol. “Most of our body’s cholesterol is manufactured by the liver and high levels can be very difficult to reduce by diet alone - raised levels might require statins to bring cholesterol down to healthy levels “explained the nurse.

However, cholesterol isn’t the only part of the story. “We also look at inflammation by measuring the level of High Sensitivity C Reactive Protein” she added. This isn’t a measure of the inflammation you experience when the body suffers acute trauma, like a cut. Rather it is the low - grade response to chronic inflammation which damages our blood vessels. This type of inflammation is caused by a diet high in sugar and trans fats, a sedentary lifestyle and also chronic stress. It is the combination of inflamed blood vessel walls and cholesterol, which causes heart attacks and strokes” explained our nurse.

Heart disease risk

Timothy got his results today and couldn’t be more pleased. Although his total cholesterol was slightly above the recommended level of 5, he had a good ratio of good cholesterol to bad which offers protection from heart disease. In addition, he had a very low level of High Sensitivity C Reactive Protein, right at the bottom end of the range which pointed to very little damage to blood vessel walls, thus reducing his risk of heart disease even further. “ These results have been a big relief to me” says Timothy. Although the Medichecks nurse has advised a couple of additional tests – in particular a blood pressure check, I feel that on the key risks I’m in good shape. It means that I can continue with my current lifestyle without having to make any serious adjustments to my diet and exercise level. I certainly won’t be leaving it another decade before I get tested again as I know that a lot of the risk factors increase with age – but for now I couldn’t feel better!”

Watch this video to see what happens to artery walls when cholesterol and inflammation combine to cause atherosclerosis.