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Americans lower bad cholesterol levels but many untreated

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

New findings show that Americans have lowered their bad (LDL) cholesterol levels by one-third. The news is good because LDL cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries and heart attack. The findings also show that though bad cholesterol levels are lower in the US, not enough people are being screened and treated for high cholesterol.

Researchers examined four cycles of one year studies beginning in 1999 to 2006 to find that high LDL-C levels decreased from 31.5 percent in 1999-2000 to 21.2 percent in 2005-2006. The authors say, "However, this prevalence varied substantially by risk category.” The highest LDL levels were found among high risk groups with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, angina and heart attack, and the highest risk group included those with blood sugar levels above 126mg/dL.

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Just over thirty five percent of study participants with high LDL levels had cholesterol screening. In 2005 and 2006, 39.6 percent of patients with bad cholesterol levels were untreated or inadequately treated and about one fifth of the study group should have been receiving cholesterol lowering medications because of risk factors, but were not.

The authors write, "Self-reported use of lipid-lowering medications increased from 8.0 percent to 13.4 percent, but screening rates did not change significantly, remaining less than 70 percent during the study periods.”

More Americans are taking cholesterol lowering medications and have reduce their LDL cholesterol levels, but screening rates remained unchanged, perhaps by a lack of agreement about what age cholesterol screening should be started. The study authors say identifying high cholesterol through testing needs improvement. Despite the increased use of cholesterol lowering medications a large portion of adults with high LDL cholesterol levels remain untreated.

JAMA. 2009;302[19]:2104-2110