27/05/2012 17:10 BST | Updated 27/07/2012 06:12 BST

Invisible Killers: High Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure

It seems recently like the whole world has been talking about statins - these are cholesterol lowering drugs - as a recent study published in the Lancet hit the headlines, talking about prescribing them for everyone over 50 in an effort to stave off the devastating effects of heart disease.

At the British Heart Foundation our research has shown that even for those already diagnosed with high cholesterol, 1 in 3 people do not take their medication as prescribed. 1 in 4 people with high blood pressure, another heart disease risk factor, did not take their medication as prescribed.

We need to get the message out there that when you're prescribed medication it's an acceptable part of getting and keeping healthy. With his family's permission, we've taken on legendary comedian Tommy Cooper's voice and image to help get this idea across.

There are many reasons why people do not take their medication as agreed with their doctor. These include forgetfulness, side effects, not understanding the treatment, busy lives... the list goes on. It's important that patients understand that they are not at fault. Many people experience these problems and your doctor is there to help you through.

No warning signs

High cholesterol and high blood pressure rarely have any symptoms - which may be part of the reason why medication for these conditions isn't taken as prescribed. These conditions are invisible killers. They slowly damage blood vessels in the heart and brain, increasing the risk of a blood clot to form in the blood vessel, causing a heart attack or stroke.

Check it out

If you are over 40, you can make an appointment for an NHS health check at your local GP surgery - which will include a cholesterol and blood pressure check.

You may already be aware of heart disease, high cholesterol or high blood pressure in your family as well - another good reason to get your levels checked - especially as you might not get any symptoms.

Improving your levels

If your cholesterol or blood pressure levels are high, your doctor may recommend several options. It's important to have an honest conversation with your doctor, and keep in mind the potentially devastating consequences of these conditions, so that you can make truly informed choices about your health.

Most doctors will recommend lifestyle changes - it's important to pay attention to your diet and your exercise levels. But when they recommend you take medication as well as changing your diet or exercise regimes, that's because it's the fastest and most effective way of getting your levels to an acceptable place. It's also important to ask how long you're likely to be on the medication for, ask about potential side effects, and understand the best times to take it and what to do if you miss a dose.

Side effects

When you're dealing with an invisible condition, side effects from medication can seem like a bit of a cruel joke. While many people will be lucky and avoid side effects all together, if you continue to experience them once you've got past the first few weeks of getting used to the medication, it's vital you make an appointment as soon as possible with your GP, and do not stop taking your medication without letting your doctor know.

Your local pharmacist or practice nurse also hold a wealth of information and will be able to advise you.

Help us get it right

Medication is a very individual thing - what works for one person will not necessarily work for everybody. Work with your doctor to find the right dose and type of medication for you, and give it time.

Vicky Cooper, Tommy's daughter, said:

"My father had his life snatched away from him but it could have been avoided. My advice now is always that you shouldn't delay. Don't keep making excuses. If you think something might be wrong, get yourself checked. You're not being a nuisance.

"If you know you should be taking medication then take it, and prevent your life being snatched away too."