Southeastern Health

Misconceptions about cholesterol: A more complete picture of heart health

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By Dr. James McLeod, Dr. A.J. Robinson Medical Clinic, an affiliate of Southeastern Regional Medical Center

– Lumberton, N.C. 

 

Most of us know that high levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad cholesterol”) are considered one of the most important risk factors for determining the threat of heart disease (which can lead to a heart attack).  However, you may be very surprised to learn that approximately 50 percent of heart attack sufferers have normal cholesterol levels. That is because for some individuals, cholesterol levels alone cannot predict heart disease risk.

 

Particles Cause Plaque

Cholesterol does not travel freely in the body.  LDL “bad” cholesterol is transported in LDL particles, which travel into the arteries, deposit their contents and cause plaque buildup (atherosclerosis).  Excessive plaque buildup can cause the artery to become blocked, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

 

A simple way to think of the role that LDL particles play in heart disease is to imagine a traffic jam. In this analogy, think of particles as the cars on the highway and cholesterol as the passengers in those cars. A traffic jam is caused by having too many cars on the road, not by having too many people in the cars. Similarly, it’s not the amount of cholesterol in the particles, but rather the number of LDL particles traveling in the blood, that cause plaque buildup. This is why some patients with “normal” cholesterol levels may still be at risk. These individuals can have a high number of LDL particles but normal LDL cholesterol levels.

 

If you have a high LDL particle number, your doctor may recommend changes to diet, increased activity levels or prescribe medications that lower the LDL particle number.  Knowing your LDL particle number along with the traditional cholesterol number gives doctors the information they need to manage and maintain their patient’s heart health.

 

Ongoing scientific research demonstrates that for a sizeable percentage of individuals, the number of LDL particles is a better indicator of cardiovascular risk than cholesterol alone. Knowing the limitations of the standard cholesterol test, the National Lipid Association, a nonprofit, medical society, recently convened an expert panel to examine alternative biomarkers for cardiovascular risk. In October, the panel recommended testing for LDL particle number in patients who are at an elevated risk.

 

Many healthcare providers, like myself, have begun utilizing a test that provides more than just cholesterol information for a more complete picture of an individual’s heart health.

 

More than a Cholesterol Test

Normal cholesterol tests do not measure the number of LDL particles. My practice orders the NMR LipoProfile® test – or as we call it, The Particle Test – which provides a snapshot of an individual’s heart health by measuring both traditional cholesterol levels and the number of LDL particles through a standard blood draw. The Particle Test provides a better understanding of a patient’s cardiovascular health and empowers healthcare providers like myself to develop personalized treatment for patients who remain at risk despite a normal cholesterol level.

 

Who Should Have The Particle Test?

The Particle Test is a simple blood test and should be ordered for individuals who are overweight or obese, have diabetes, a family history of heart disease, experienced previous cardiac events, or considered at high risk for heart disease.

 

To find if this test is appropriate for you, ask your physician or medical provider.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 14 December 2011 16:52 )  
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