Early Detection of High Cholesterol Can Play Important Role in Preventing Heart Disease
Houston (August 6, 2001) - In the ongoing battle against heart disease, the nation’s number one killer of men and women, physicians and researchers are increasingly focusing attention on the risk factors for this disease that are controllable.
The major risk factors of heart disease include:
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol Levels
- Family History
Of the major risk factors for heart disease, all but family history and age are controllable to some degree. And, with a powerful new class of drugs on the market and more focused research, controlling cholesterol levels is emerging as a very effective way to reduce the risk of a heart attack.
Although much has been written about cholesterol and its link with heart disease, there are a few important messages that haven’t been emphasized enough to the public, according to Spencer R. Berthelsen, M.D., a Kelsey-Seybold Clinic physician, who is board certified in Internal Medicine. For example, “Knowing your cholesterol levels early in life is very important, especially if you have a family history of heart disease.”
Dr. Berthelsen continues, “With new drug options, especially the class of cholesterol-lowering drugs called the statins, we can achieve greater results in the prevention of atherosclerosis (the deposition of cholesterol in the walls of arteries) in a 30-year-old than we can for a 70-year old. Older patients probably have other factors that have protected them from getting heart disease until later in life, so the cholesterol-lowering drugs might not benefit them quite as much.”
A growing body of research, and the increasing recognition of the impact of cholesterol levels on heart disease, spurred the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) of the National Institutes of Health to release new, more aggressive cholesterol management guidelines in May of this year. The NCEP’s recommendations include more aggressive identification of adults with high cholesterol levels, in addition to more aggressive treatment of individuals with this risk factor. In fact, the NCEP predicts that when these guidelines are fully implemented, the number of patients being treated for high cholesterol will increase from 52 million to 64 million.
Preventing Progression of Atherosclerosis
The current research and the new guidelines support Dr. Berthlesen’s focus on preventing the progression of atherosclerosis before it can progress into heart disease. “The benefits of reducing cholesterol levels can be seen quickly, usually by reduction in the risk of a heart attack within the first two to three years in patients with known heart trouble. You don’t have to be on medication for years and years to see a decrease in your risk, ” observes Dr. Berthelsen.
Dr. Berthelsen attributes this to diet and medication being able to control the unstable cholesterol-rich atherosclerotic plaque in the artery walls. “If we can stabilize the atherosclerotic plaque – by lowering the amount of cholesterol in the plaque – we have a much better chance of lowering the risk of a heart attack, even without having a measurable change in the amount of narrowing of the arteries,” says Dr. Berthelsen.
Risk Factors Are Related
Another message about risk factors that hasn’t quite reached the public is the importance of the relationship between the factors. “Risk factors are more than just additive. They amplify each other. For example, if you have two risk factors, your risk to have a heart attack is increased by more than adding the individual risks together. Fortunately, it also works the other way, ” states Dr. Berthelsen.
“Reducing or eliminating your controllable risk factors can have a substantial positive impact on your health, especially the risk factors that can be controlled from a young age, such as smoking and cholesterol levels,” encourages Dr. Berthelsen.
Control Treatable Risk Factors
The bottom line in fighting heart disease is early identification of all risk factors, and early treatment of those factors that can be controlled. The major risk factors for heart disease include smoking, high blood pressure, obesity or inactivity, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, family history and age.
Dr. Berthelsen says, “People are far more interested in and educated about their own health than ever before. That fact, in combination with the arsenal of preventive treatments we now have, is key to turning the tide in the battle against heart disease.”
For questions and concerns about cholesterol, contact your primary care physician or call Kelsey-Seybold Clinic at (713) 442-0427.