HDL Cholesterol Levels & What They Mean

You do everything right. You avoid so-called bad foods like those that are fried, fatty, processed and the doctor says your blood tests show it. Youve got a low level of the so-called bad LDL cholesterol and high levels of the good HDL cholesterol. So how is it possible that your last EKG showed your heart wasnt happy? A just-released study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine may have solved the mystery.

New research conducted at the University of Pennsylvanias School of Medicine by Dr. Daniel J. Rader, director of preventative cardiology, shows heart disease risk may be better assessed by measuring HDL's ability to remove artery-clogging plaque, rather than the HDL levels themselves. Scientists think this means that theres a protein or a compound in particular kinds of HDL cholesterol thats more efficient at getting rid of bad cholesterol than other kinds of HDL.

Where does that leave those of us who are carefully watching our diets to prevent heart risks or trying to manage our heart problems? Well confused. More research is definitely needed to confirm Raders findings, but the doctor says the study does explain why some people with high HDL levels also have a high risk of heart disease, while others with low level of HDL are protected.

The risks of heart disease measured in the study were gauged by the thickness of the subjects arterial walls. It has long been known that the thicker the walls, the higher the risk of heart disease. Rader and his colleagues found that the HDL cholesterol from people who have coronary artery disease didn't pump cholesterol out the cells as well as the HDL cholesterol from people without the disease. Therefore, the risk of coronary artery disease decreased as HDL's ability to remove cholesterol increased, the researchers concluded. Ultimately when it came to predicting heart disease, a patient's HDL levels were a significantly less effective measure than the HDL's ability to remove cholesterol, the researchers said. Right now, the kind of test used in the study is too complicated and costly to run on the general population but Rader says, If we can find that there's a particular protein that's a major determinant" of how well HDL can remove bad cholesterol from cells, that would be a better way of testing HDL effectiveness in the future. Currently labs run test for C-reactive proteins, which determine the degree of inflammation in the body and a similar test might hopefully be developed. According to the American Heart Association, these are the leading factors, other than high cholesterol, that put you at risk for coronary artery disease or a heart attack.
More than 83% of people who die from coronary heart disease are 65 or older. Older women are more likely to die of heart attacks within a few weeks of the attack than older men.Being male: Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and they have attacks earlier in life. Even after menopause, when women's death rate from heart disease increases, it's not as great as men's.Family history: Those with parents or close relatives with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves.Race: Heart disease risk is higher among African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans compared to Caucasians.Smoking: This increases your risk of developing heart disease by two to four times. High blood pressure: High blood pressure increases the heart's workload, causing the heart to thicken and become stiffer. It also increases your risk of stroke, , kidney failure, and congestive heart failure. When high blood pressure exists with smoking, high blood cholesterol levels, or diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases several times.?Sedentary lifestyle: Inactivity is a risk factor for coronary heart disease.Excess weight: People who have excess body fatespecially if a lot of it is at the waistare more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors.Diabetes: Having diabetes seriously increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. About three-quarters of people with diabetes die from some form of heart or blood vessel disease.Robin Westen is ThirdAges medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. She is the author of Relationship Repair (Sterling).See what others have to say about this story or leave a comment of your own.
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