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 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 AHA statistics. And, too much cholesterol puts people at risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the U.S.

The 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 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.

  3. I agree! You typically include action plans with your article. This was a missed opportunity to educate on what those lifestyle and dietary changes might be.

  4. I don’t think they gave descriptions of ways to lower it because people really really do need to partner with their physician to do this. Each person’s case is unique to them, each person’s health is unique to them. I wouldn’t want somebody giving me advice on how to correct an illness or something that I have without them being an actual physician and without them having the knowledge that they need to have to give this information to someone else.

  5. There seems to be some controversy about the role of cholesterol and heart attacks. I am following several doctors on twitter who seem to think so and post lots of research, which I am unable to comprehend fully due to their being directed at professionals. I am willing to listen to them, though, as there is one thing about cholesterol and the numbers that the mainstream understanding doesn’t seem to explain well, and that is why the HDL “good cholesterol” is lumped in with the bad, the total number being considered rather than just the bad. It’s a puzzle to me, as well as the fact that the essential role cholesterol plays in every body function does not seem to be a concern. Statins hit hard, that’s for sure. I take two and everything aches every day.

  6. Christopher David Larsen April 15, 2018 at 10:04 am · Reply

    What i have found is that few physicians provide specifics for lifestyle changes. You are more likely to find this if you see a mid level provider like a nurse practitioner.
    My doc, Dr Moduthagam, has an advanced understanding of the chemistry that has to change. She has given me specific changes to obtain the goals that I want to reach. She has also done a great job in providing a cheering section- even though it’s a one person cheering section – she has given me the gift of energy because I like to get her excited when I meet a goal.
    It’s doctors like this who can change your life – and maybe the system – such a great person to have on your side!

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.