Do you know how to manage your high cholesterol? Unfortunately, a new report from the American Heart Association (AHA) says chances are good that you probably don’t.
A recent survey conducted by the organization found that many U.S. consumers know that it’s necessary to manage the condition, but they don’t necessarily know how to do it. This is dangerous, the researchers say, because of how closely high cholesterol is tied to more serious conditions like heart disease and stroke.
"We wanted to get a sense of what people know about their cholesterol risk and its connection to heart disease and stroke, as well as how people engage with their healthcare providers to manage their risks," explains Dr. Mary Ann Bauman. "We found even among those people at the highest risk for heart disease and stroke, overall knowledge was lacking and there was a major disconnect between perceptions about cholesterol and the significance of its health impact."
The survey questioned approximately 800 people across the U.S. who were known to have a history of cardiovascular disease or had been identified as having one major cardiovascular disease risk factor, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.
The findings showed that almost half of participants (47%) with a known risk factor for heart disease or stroke had not had their cholesterol checked within the past year. Even worse, 21% of respondents who knew they had high cholesterol had not had it checked in over a year.
Other findings showed that the majority of respondents with high cholesterol were aware of how important it was to manage the condition, but reported “being confused, discouraged and uncertain about their ability to do so.”
Discuss treatment options
The findings could mean big trouble for millions of Americans. The researchers estimate that 94.6 million, or 40% of the adult U.S. population, have cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dL; approximately 12% have even higher numbers over 240 mg/dL.
“Research suggests even modestly elevated cholesterol levels can lead to heart disease later in life, but these survey results show an alarming lack of communication between healthcare providers and those most at risk for cardiovascular disease,” said Bauman.
Bauman and her colleagues point out that there is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach to treating high cholesterol. They say it is up to consumers to become informed on how they can manage their condition and health care providers to go through each treatment option.
“Current guidelines call for lifestyle modifications as a first line treatment, but that’s often not enough. We also need to talk to patients about other risk factors, including genetics and family history, to determine the most effective course of treatment for each individual,” Bauman said.
The survey was conducted as a part of the American Heart Association’s Check.Change.Control.Cholesterol initiative, which seeks to increase public awareness and provide guideline-based best practices to health care providers and patients. More information can be found on the AHA site here.