DR ELLIE CANNON: I’m a fit 9st so why’s my cholesterol high?

For years my cholesterol has been very high – a reading of about eight. 

But I weigh only around 9st and I’ve always walked at least a mile each day. Why do I have high cholesterol? Could it be genetic? I am 76 years old.

Some two-thirds of British adults are thought to have abnormally high cholesterol fatty deposits that can build up in the arteries.

Moderately high cholesterol levels measuring anywhere between five-and- a-half and seven are usually diet- or weight-related.

If the figure is nearer eight, however, I suspect a genetic cause might be at play. This is a condition known as familial hypercholesterolaemia, or FH.

A 76-year-old reader asked Dr Ellie why she has high cholesterol despite only weighing nine stone and walking at least a mile a day. Picture posed by models 

National guidelines state that anyone with a reading over 7.5 should be investigated for FH with the help of a specialist.

Not only does this aim to reduce cholesterol but it also uses DNA testing to identify other family members who may be at risk. This is absolutely imperative.


More from Dr Ellie Cannon for The Mail on Sunday…

High cholesterol puts everyone at risk of heart disease and strokes, including children and teenagers.

Teenagers with a certain type of FH can then begin taking cholesterol medication to protect them.

High cholesterol levels that are caused by FH will not change with diet because the body produces cholesterol regardless of what you eat.

It begins at birth and can lead to furring up of the arteries even at a young age.

Sadly, premature heart disease is common in FH, which is why many sufferers have a shorter life expectancy than everyone else.

However, if treatment is started early enough, these consequences can be avoided.

Male sufferers who have no treatment have a 50 per cent chance of having a heart attack by the age of 50.

Women have a 30 per cent chance by the time they reach 60. So to reach the age of 76, without any problems, is incredibly lucky.

Being aware of the problem means patients can protect themselves – usually by taking cholesterol-lowering medication – and also their family. Siblings and children have a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the condition.

I am a redhead with pale skin who rarely goes into the sun. I cover up completely and even use factor 50 on my hands. But recently, my arms have started burning as if I have sunburn all the time. It lasts for weeks and aloe vera gel, which I’ve used in the past to soothe sunburn, doesn’t seem to help. What do you suggest?

There are several possible causes of this painful problem.

Burning, when it is without redness, can be caused by a neurological problem such as a condition called neuropathy or nerve damage.

Our nerves are responsible for sensations such as touch, pain, heat and cold. So, if you sense heat when there is nothing external to provoke that sensation, it is likely to be a nerve issue.

A redhead with pale skin has written to Dr Ellie about a problem which seems to be permanent sunburn despite rarely going out without anything less than Factor 50 sun block - picture posed by a model

A redhead with pale skin has written to Dr Ellie about a problem which seems to be permanent sunburn despite rarely going out without anything less than Factor 50 sun block – picture posed by a model

Conditions such as diabetes, kidney and liver disease, some cancers and even deficiency of the Vitamin B12 can trigger these nerve conditions.

The feeling of burning is also a known symptom of multiple sclerosis, referred to by experts as ‘MS altered sensation’.


Email DrEllie@mailonsunday.co.uk or write to Health, The Mail on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT. 

Dr Ellie can only answer in a general context and cannot respond to individual cases, or give personal replies. 

If you have a health concern, always consult your own GP.  

The condition causes damage to nerves, sparking unexplained physical sensations, usually on just one side of the body. It may be burning, crawling, pins and needles or even itching. If the burning persists, a doctor needs to rule MS out as a possible explanation. Aside from a nerve issue, burning could also be an allergy, an irritation, a reaction to a drug or even a symptom of stress or anxiety.

Eczema and other skin diseases may cause burning but in these cases, it’s usually accompanied by redness or skin changes.

In terms of treatment, the first port of call is blood tests carried out by the GP. These can show up signs of deficiencies and inflammation in the body.

Electrical tests are also used by doctors to examine how the nerves are functioning.

If patients need pain control, we can prescribe a nerve painkiller such as gabapentin.

It’s not just HRT that’s running low

Panic  ensued last week at reports of a national shortage of HRT, denying 200,000 menopausal women vital drugs.

It’s just the tip of the iceberg. In the past six months I’ve seen dramatic shortages of the contraceptive pill, insulin, EpiPens, eye drops and countless other medications.

I’ve never seen anything like it in more than a decade of general practice. There’s clearly an issue with the British medicine supply chain.

My advice? Ask your pharmacist what alternative is available first, then ask your GP to prescribe that specific drug. 

Have you been affected by a drugs shortage? Email me at DrEllie@mailonsunday.co.uk.

This new discreet underwear is designed for women who suffer from incontinence

This new discreet underwear is designed for women who suffer from incontinence 

There’s been an outcry among British nurses about a new range of discreet underwear designed for women who suffer from incontinence. 

Royal College of Nursing representatives said the new Tena products will stop women doing pelvic floor exercises that are known to improve symptoms.

This seems like an odd thing to say. For some mothers, it takes years of these exercises – and even medical treatment – before they regain control.

Should they have to put up with leaking through their trousers in the meantime? Absolutely not.

Yet another medical innovation blew my mind last week – a breath test that can diagnose lung cancer in just ten minutes. 

Fast diagnosis means speedier treatment, saving thousands of lives. Scientists in Canterbury are trialling the device, and research has shown that the same technology could be used to diagnose 400 other illnesses.


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