New guidelines recently released by the American Heart Association stress the importance of taking a lifetime approach to managing cholesterol levels as a way to minimize the risk of life-threatening cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke. The new guidelines offer a more personalized approach to assessing individual risk and developing a treatment plan, according to Dr. Marina Jansen, a cardiologist and an AHA Go Red for Women ambassador.
Atherosclerosis—the buildup of fat and cholesterol-filled plaques inside the arteries—begins in young adulthood, Jansen explains. Smoking, high blood pressure and high blood sugar are well-established risk factors used for calculating a person’s 10-year risk for developing heart disease. But it is now recommended, Jansen continues, that physicians also consider “risk-enhancing factors.” These include family history and other health conditions, such as inflammatory diseases, chronic kidney disease and a history of complicated pregnancies.
“Lifestyle changes of diet modifications, weight control and exercise are always step one in treating elevated cholesterol,” says Jansen. For patients at higher risk, a cholesterol-reducing drug called a statin can be prescribed. Statins can reduce cholesterol up to 50 percent by blocking an enzyme in the liver. Global and U.S. studies have suggested the optimal level of LDL, the so-called “bad” cholesterol that contributes to atherosclerosis, should be less than 100 mg/dL for otherwise healthy people.
Cholesterol management is part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Other factors include not smoking, getting plenty of exercise, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy body weight, and controlling blood pressure and blood sugar.
Adults should discuss their risk of heart disease with their physician to determine the most appropriate treatment options. The new guidelines also recommend screening for children, particularly if there is a family history of heart attack or stroke. Your child’s pediatrician can determine the best age to begin screening, which involves a simple blood test.
For Additional Information
American Heart Association
1142 Broadway, Tacoma