The dangers of not understanding cholesterol

The dangers of not understanding cholesterol

Americans with high cholesterol often are unaware of how to manage their potentially deadly condition, according to a new study conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA). The survey was conducted as part of the AHA’s Check. Change. Control. Cholesterol initiative.

Nearly one in three American adults has high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, according to AHG statistics. And, too much cholesterol puts people at risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the United States.

The new AHA research included a survey of nearly 800 people with a history of heart disease or at least one major risk factor, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

According to the survey results, 82 percent of the participants knew of a link between cholesterol and risk for heart disease and stroke, and almost 90 percent of people with high cholesterol said they understood the importance of managing their cholesterol. But, many were confused (39 percent), discouraged (44 percent) and not confident (45 percent) about their ability to do so.

These people felt particularly uninformed about what their target body weight should be, the differences between the types of cholesterol (LDL (bad) vs. HDL (good) and cholesterol management goals.

“These results point out a serious gap between knowing something, like high cholesterol, is bad and knowing what to do about it,” says Dr. Lubna Piracha, an Advocate Medical Group cardiologist on staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “Physicians and patients need to do a better job of working together to turn test results into actions that will benefit the patients.”

Dr. Piracha points out that the survey also exposed that many people aren’t even taking the first step toward managing their cholesterol levels. She points to the fact that among all respondents, 47 percent of them hadn’t had their cholesterol checked in the past year. And, even those with high cholesterol reported not having their cholesterol checked in the past year.

“Even among known risk factors for heart disease and stroke, there is a large opportunity to improve cholesterol testing rates,” she says. “And you can’t move cholesterol levels that you aren’t measuring.”

Dr. Piracha recommends people work closely with their physicians to keep track of their cholesterol levels and partner with them to manage it over the long term.

“Lifestyle changes are important to lower cholesterol levels, and in some cases, cholesterol-lowering medicines may also provide benefit,” she says. “Partnering with a physician gives you the best opportunity to understand these things and stick to them.”

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  1. One must also consider the side effects of the cholesterol lowering drugs! No drug is without it’s side effects. Sometimes the side effects creep up slowly and one does not immediately make the connection. My husband started taking a cholesterol lowering drug and arthritis started in his hands! We made the connection and once he stopped taking the cholesterol drug his hands returned to normal! One of the side effects listed for the drug was arthritic symptoms! In my opinion, diet is the only safe way to lower cholesterol. I have extremely high HDL which I attribute to taking daily doses of Norwegian cod liver oil (not in pill form).

  2. It would be nice to have examples of those “lifestyle” changes people can make… I get that many people are not aware of how to manage their cholesterol, and the take-home message here seems to be that patients should talk to their doctor to determine their best plan of action- this is a good point, but it would have been nice to include some of those action plans in this article- how can one help lower the bad cholesterol (LDL, triglycerides) and raise the good (HDL) on their own? Certain foods, eating routines probably make a huge impact.

About the Author

Nate Llewellyn
Nate Llewellyn

Nate Llewellyn, health enews contributor, is a manager of public affairs at Advocate Medical Group. Nate began his career as a journalist and builds daily on his nearly 20 years of writing experience. He spends most of his free time following his wife to their two sons’ various activities.