There’s good news in the fight against high cholesterol. Results from a recent study show that the number of people with high LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) decreased about 30% between the years 1999-2006.
A group of researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from more than 7,000 people who participated in a national health assessment survey. Their data indicate that the number of people with high LDL cholesterol between 2005 and 2006 decreased significantly over the number of people with high LDL cholesterol in 1999-2000.
While the overall result is promising, the study shed some not-so-positive light on cholesterol screening tests. Data indicate that an alarming 60% of people with high LDL cholesterol have no idea they have it. Some of these people have never been screened and the others have been screened but never diagnosed.
Researchers attribute the lack of diagnoses to confusion over what should is considered a high level of LDL cholesterol. Definitions vary depending on whether a person is considered high-risk for cardiovascular or other medical problems.
The study also found that the number of new cases of high LDL cholesterol was highest among people considered high-risk.
Also eye-opening was the fact that 40% of people found to have high LDL cholesterol had never been medically treated or were not treated adequately.
Cardiologists are concerned because they say the results indicate that patients who could benefit from medications and lifestyle changes are not taking advantage of available treatments. It turns out that the number of people who reported using cholesterol-lowering medications increased, but a large percentage of people were still not getting treatment for their high cholesterol.
While the study shows that many people are not being screened, that number did not change over the study period. Researchers attribute this to disagreement over when screening should start. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association recommend that screening should start when a person is in his or her 20’s.
As for the reasons for the overall lower cholesterol, the researchers say they don’t know. They say it could be because of lifestyle changes or because the use of cholesterol-lowering medications is more common. Regardless, researchers believe there are many more people who could benefit from these medications.
In response to the study, some physicians caution against focusing too much on cholesterol. They say that high cholesterol is only one of many risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and that doctors should consider all of them before recommending any type of treatment.