Doctors `failing to test patients for cholesterol'

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British heart disease patients have the highest cholesterol levels in Europe but doctors are failing to reduce the risk by testing for it, a wide-ranging study has found.

Nearly three-quarters of people with coronary heart disease in the United Kingdom had high levels of cholesterol - almost double that of Spain, the lowest country in the survey. And despite high cholesterol being a well-known risk factor for coronary heart disease, more than 40 per cent of patients had not been tested for it. The UK also scored particularly badly on high blood pressure and failing to screen people with a family history of heart disease - two other common risks for coronary heart disease patients.

At the weekend, cardiologists at a commemorative Nobel Prize meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, warned that doctors are not practising "good medicine" by failing to identify common risk factors and patients' survival is being affected as a result.

At present 1 million Europeans die from coronary heart disease every 18 months and in Britain alone it is estimated there are 3.4 million sufferers.

The findings of Euro- ASPIRE, a 10-nation study encompassing more than 5,000 coronary heart disease patients, revealed at the conference were "surprising and disappointing", according to Professor David Wood, the study's lead investigator.

The research looked at patients six months after admission to hospital and monitored six risk factors - smoking, obesity, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, diabetes and family history. As many as half of the patients had not had these factors effectively managed.

Around Europe, on average, nearly one in five continued to smoke and more than a quarter were obese. Nearly half had high cholesterol levels and a similar amount had mild to severe high blood pressure.

The UK had the worst rate in Europe for high cholesterol, with nearly three-quarters of patients having too high levels. Added to this, blood cholesterol levels are infrequently monitored and had not been measured previously in more than 40 per cent of cases.

Blood pressure levels were among the highest in Europe and we came second only to Finland in failing to screen people with a family history of heart disease. Just over 27 per cent of people were obese and 19 per cent continued to smoke.

Professor Wood said: "Despite the increasing scientific evidence of benefit from treating and controlling such risks, the survey shows a wide-spread lack of implementation of these straightforward measures by doctors at all levels."