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The Complex Relationship Between Lipids and Cardiovascular Events

By Kevin Gong

High levels of lipids (fats), including cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, is also called “hyperlipidemia.” Hyperlipidemia can significantly increase a person’s risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other serious problems due to vessel wall narrowing or obstruction. To lower these risks, doctors often recommend that people with hyperlipidemia try to lower their cholesterol levels through a combination of dietary changes, exercise, and medication. Most cholesterol-lowering therapies are aimed at reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. High levels of LDL can cause atherosclerosis, which is the major cause of cardiovascular events. This article will discuss the relationship between the different types of lipids. 

LDL levels raise your risk of cardiovascular disease. Some healthcare providers make decisions about how to treat hyperlipidemia based on the LDL cholesterol level. Your goal LDL cholesterol depends on your overall risk for a cardiovascular event (heart attack or stroke). Several factors affect your personal risk, including whether you have a history of cardiovascular disease and your risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the future (based on your age, sex, and other major risk factors). People at higher risk are often given a lower LDL cholesterol goal. 

Not all cholesterol is bad. High levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol is often an indicator of a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. A level of 60 mg/dL (1.55 mmol/L) or higher is excellent, while levels of HDL cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL (1.03 mmol/L) are considered lower than desirable. There is no treatment that lowers your risk for a cardiovascular event by raising HDL cholesterol. As with total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol can be measured with a blood test at any time. 

In summary, many expert groups have guidelines for lipid screening, which typically involves a “lipid profile” that includes blood tests to measure cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The guidelines differ in their recommendations about when to start screening, how frequently you should be screened, and when to stop. Your healthcare provider can talk with you about your situation and whether and when you should be screened. An initial screening profile is often measured by the pediatrician during childhood and should be measured again at age 18 years.

About Kevin Gong

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