Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Dr Sarah Jarvis is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

Your body needs some cholesterol to work efficiently – in fact, the wall of every cell in your body contains some cholesterol. However, if you have too much cholesterol in your system, it can get laid down on the lining of your arteries. This can fur up your arteries, like limescale in your circulatory plumbing.

High cholesterol doesn’t cause symptoms, but it does increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. 6 in 10 adults in England have high cholesterol.

If you’re over 40 and have ever had a health check, your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will almost certainly have asked you some questions about your risk of heart attack. You should have had your cholesterol checked as part of this check if it hadn’t been measured in the previous 5 years.

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What Treatment do I need for High Cholesterol?

If your cholesterol has been found to be high, you’ll have been given lifestyle advice. This should include advice on a heart-healthy diet, the benefits of exercise and stopping smoking. If you’re carrying extra weight, losing even a few pounds can help improve your cholesterol levels as well.

If you’ve had a heart attack or stroke, you should definitely have been offered medication - probably statin tablets – to reduce your cholesterol. That’s because statin tablets can greatly reduce your risk of a second event, even if you’re already taking steps to improve your lifestyle.

Even if you haven’t had a heart attack, all heart health checks include an assessment of your risk of heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. If you’ve been found to have more than a 1 in 10 chance of heart attack or stroke, chances are you’ll have been offered statin medication.

Medication Packets

Travelling with Medicine for High Cholesterol

If you have high cholesterol, you may well be taking medication. You must continue to take your tablets regularly, including on holidays. With this in mind, there are some sensible steps to take:

  • Order your repeat prescription at least a week in advance.

  • Do make sure that you have enough tablets to last for the whole time you’re away, and ideally for a couple of weeks more, in case of unexpected delays.

  • Check with your pharmacist if there are any restrictions on the medications you can take with you. Statin tablets shouldn’t be a problem, but if you’re taking other medicines, you may need a letter from your doctor. There are also restrictions in many countries on ‘controlled drugs’ which include most strong painkillers.

  • Keep your medicine in its original packaging, along with a copy of your repeat prescription. Carry this with your passport and ticket so it’s always close to hand.

  • Keep your medicine in your hand luggage – luggage in the hold, all too often goes astray! If possible, split your medication with someone you’re travelling with, just in case you mislay your hand luggage.

Have a look at our comprehensive guide on travelling with medication for more top tips.

Get Moving

Regular exercise can protect your heart, and even lower your cholesterol levels. A holiday is the perfect time to get moving:

  • Pack a comfortable pair of trainers – and a small bag to pack smart shoes in, so you can walk to the restaurant and change when you arrive.

  • Take a brisk walk around the airport once you’ve checked in.

  • Make use of the hotel swimming pool, or take a regular dip in the sea – ideally not just floating gently on your back!

  • Many hotels offer regular exercise classes – find out if you can sign up in advance.

  • Look out for walking tours (ideally avoiding 12-3pm, when the sun is at its most fierce, if you’re in a hot climiate).

  • If you’re using public transport, get off one stop away from wherever you’re going and walk the last mile.

  • Take the stairs rather than the lift, and walk up the escalator!
Fruit Buffet

Stay Heart Healthy

It’s natural to want to let your hair down a bit when you’re on holiday. And it’s quite possible to follow a heart-healthy diet

Foods that are high in cholesterol aren’t the main culprits where raised cholesterol is concerned. In fact, most of the cholesterol in your system is made in your body – particularly from foods high in saturated fats.

  • A Mediterranean-style diet consistently comes up as the best diet for your health. But when healthcare professionals talk about the Mediterranean diet, they mean a diet high in fruits, veg, olive oil, and fish, and low in processed and refined foods. They’re not talking about doner kebabs and baklava!

  • Eggs have relatively high cholesterol content. However, they’re low in saturated fat, and moderate egg consumption (up to one a day) won’t raise your cholesterol.

  • Some seafood like prawns, crab, squid and lobster contain cholesterol but are low in saturated fat. They often feel like a real holiday treat and can be a good way of keeping your saturated fat intake down on holiday.

  • In hot countries, there’s usually a good selection of delicious fresh fruit. Focus on whole fruit rather than too much fruit juice, which has high levels of free sugars. Head for the fruit bar at breakfast, and choose fruit rather than pastry to satisfy your sweet tooth at the end of a meal.

  • If you’re going to a warm country, chances are there will be lots of salads on the menu. Do bear in mind that slathering them with lots of mayonnaise, or eating them with hunks of white bread, completely defeats the object!

  • There’s a big difference between types of fat where your cholesterol is concerned. For instance, animal fats in greasy kebabs are a no-no. However, many oily fish, nuts (especially walnuts), seeds and green leafy vegetables are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

  • Choose olive oil to dip your bread into rather than layering it in butter.

  • Airport and aircraft meals are often high in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates. Pack some healthy snacks – nuts, dried fruit or fresh vegetables.

  • Eating too much salt is a major risk factor for high blood pressure, one of the other big culprits where heart attack and stroke are concerned. Try and avoid salty snacks and be aware that processed foods are often high in salt.

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Always Be Prepared

It’s very important to take out specialist travel insurance which will cover you in case you have any medical issues while you’re away. If you have medical conditions you haven’t declared, your travel insurance could be invalid.

If you’re travelling in the EU, you’ll be eligible for some healthcare if you have an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) or GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card). However, these don’t cover all medical emergencies and don’t necessarily mean you’ll get free treatment, as you would on the NHS.

So even if you’re travelling to a country where you can use an EHIC or GHIC, it’s essential to take out the right travel health insurance!

Get a quote

Single Trip insurance is for one-off, individual trips and will cover your specified travel dates. This is usually up to 45 days; however, some insurance providers can cover up to 94 days. If you’re not a frequent traveller, single trip cover is a great option and will likely be cheaper than an annual multi-trip cover.

If you travel 2 or more times a year, annual trip cover may very well save you money. The maximum duration of any trip will always be specified and will vary by provider. But don't worry, when you get a quote, we'll ask you what your maximum trip length is and only show you quotes that match!

A pre-existing is any medical condition for which medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment was recommended or received before applying for a travel insurance policy. For some conditions, we'll need to know if they have ever been present, whilst for others if they occurred within a certain period.

A pre-existing condition is a diagnosed medical condition that existed before taking out a policy. We'll ask a series of questions about the medical history for you and any travellers on your quote. If you answer yes to any of these, you will need to tell us about the traveller's conditions. This could be a condition that a traveller has now or has had in the past. If you are not sure what conditions you need to declare, we have online support available to help you 24/7!

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