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Cholesterol Levels Getting Better in U.S.

Fewer Americans Have High Levels of LDL 'Bad' Cholesterol
By
WebMD Health News

Nov. 17, 2009 -- Researchers say the prevalence of high levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol decreased dramatically among U.S. adults between 1999 and 2006.

That's the good news from a study published in the Nov. 18 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The bad news -- or part of it -- is that a large percentage of adults are still not being screened or treated for high cholesterol, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.

Fewer Have High LDL Cholesterol

A team of scientists led by Elena V. Kuklina, MD, PhD, of the CDC analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of large numbers of people in the U.S.

They restricted their study sample to 7,044 people after excluding pregnant women and people for whom data were missing.

They found that overall, prevalence for high LDL decreased from 31.5% in 1999-2000 to 21.2% in 2005-2006.

However, among those who tested high for LDL during the study:

  • 35.5% had not been screened for LDL in the past.
  • 24.9% who had been screened previously were unaware they had high LDL levels.
  • 39.6% were untreated or not treated adequately in 2005-2006.

The American College of Cardiology's immediate past president, W. Douglas Weaver, MD, issued a comment about the study's findings. "I find these results alarming. Although we are making great strides in cholesterol management in patients with known heart disease, this study shows that many patients who could benefit from lipid-lowering medications and changes in their lifestyle and diet are still going unrecognized, and untreated."

Screening for Cholesterol Remains Steady

While the prevalence for high LDL levels decreased to 21.2% in the latest two-year period studied, it varied substantially by patient risk category, the researchers say. The highest prevalence of elevated LDL was observed in the high-risk category, which included people with self-reported heart disease, angina, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes, plus others with high blood glucose levels while fasting, the report says.

The self-reported use of cholesterol-lowering drugs increased from 8% to 13.4%, but screening rates didn't change significantly, remaining at less than 70% during all four of the two-year study periods. This could be due to a lack of consensus on when screening for high cholesterol should start, the researchers say.

Confusion over the definition of high-risk levels and communication problems between doctors and patients may also cause many people to miss the chance to improve their LDL counts, the researchers conclude.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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Desirable
0-199
Borderline
200-239
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240+

Your level is currently

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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