Whoops!

1.5m wrongly told they risk heart disease
Thousands of people have been wrongly told they are in danger of developing life-threatening heart diseases because of flaws in the way doctors routinely calculate the risk, according to a study of more than a million people published today. Current estimates of the number at risk of cardiovascular diseases are 1.5 million too high, the report says, suggesting the anti-cholesterol drugs statins are massively and needlessly over-prescribed, inflating the £2bn annual bill to the NHS.

The great cholesterol myth has had a stranglehold on UK health policies for years despite increasing evidence that blood cholesterol levels in most people are perfectly acceptable. The move has been to constantly lower what is considered a 'normal' or 'healthy' level of cholesterol (or LDL/HDL). When a drug popped up which enabled this to be easily achieved guess what? We ended up with a statins bill of £2 billion a year. Statins are now available in the UK over the counter. Only last week NICE advised 'that all people over 40 should be considered for statins and offered them if they are at a 20% risk of becoming ill within 10 years'.

The other area of concern, not mentioned in this article, is the misdiagnosis of high blood pressure. Like cholesterol levels, there is a downward movement in what is considered 'a healthy' BP. I have my own blood pressure monitor (it's identical to the one used by my practice nurse) yet whenever my blood pressure is taken at the surgery it is always higher than when I take it at home, leading the nurse to mutter about 'keeping an eye on it' etc. This 'white coat hypertension' effect has been researched and published widely and yet doctors still rely on a single measurement taken at the surgery to make judgements about hypertension.

To compound matters the same cuff is used on all patients regardless of their arm size. In the US it has been suggested that over 90% of cuffs are too small for the patients they are used on. Finally, add the incorrect placement of cuffs (something I've experienced many times), either too close to the elbow joint or much too high up on the arm, and you have a recipe for false readings.

For the record the average reading from my last seven blood pressure recordings is 124/69 with a resting heart-rate of 47. Not bad at any age and pretty damn good for someone rapidly approaching their seventh decade (especially given my previous very bad habits!).