Cholesterol Tests Becoming More Thorough: Some Doctors Divided Over Usefulness

Cholesterol tests are becoming more thorough, with many doctors opting to use another test to examine bad fats - a count of particles that carry LDL through the blood.

Cholesterol tests are becoming more thorough, with many doctors opting to use another test to examine bad fats - a count of particles that carry LDL through the blood.

Some cardiologists say it might help pinpoint at-risk patients who regular checks miss, or get more information about how to treat them, reports CBS News.

However, so far, major heart organizations don't recommend the extra tests, which are pricier than regular cholesterol exams (though Medicare and many other insurers pay for them). Another drawback is that the meaning of the results isn’t always clear.

Dr. Nieca Goldberg of New York University Langone Medical Center and the American Heart Association conceded, "I see a lot of people being confused,” CBS News reports.

“Especially when they're used on low-risk people, "you don't know how to make sense of the information,” she said.

Yet, up to half of heart patients apparently have normal levels of LDL cholesterol, and some doctors say particle testing might help identify them sooner.

"For most people, the standard lipid profile is fine," said Dr. Michael Davidson of the University of Chicago, reports CBS News.

“But "I get referred people who said, 'My cholesterol was fine, why do I have heart disease?' We're showing them, well, because your particle number's sky high and they were not aware that was a problem,” Davidson said.

This month, Davidson chaired a committee of the National Lipid Association, which called the extra tests reasonable to assess which at-risk patients might need to start or intensify cholesterol treatment. Scientists have long known that small, dense LDL particles "sneak" into the artery wall to build up and narrow blood vessels more easily than large, fluffy particles, CBS News reports. While overall LDL levels usually correlate with the number of particles in blood, this isn’t always the case.
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