September is observed as National Cholesterol Education Month in the United States with the aim to increase awareness about the importance of maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol clog the arteries and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. National Cholesterol Education Month is dedicated to encouraging people to maintain to prevent or treat high cholesterol by maintaining a healthy diet and weight, exercising regularly, and not smoking.
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL – low density lipoprotein or ‘bad’ cholesterol and HDL – high-density lipoprotein or ‘good’ cholesterol. HDL is called ‘good cholesterol because studies have shown that higher HDL lowers a person’s risk of coronary artery disease. Increased levels of LDL cholesterol indicate an elevated risk of heart disease. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 73.5 million adults (31.7%) in the United States have high levels of bad cholesterol.
The American Heart Association, National Cholesterol Education Program and the National Institute of Health have established guidelines for fasting LDL cholesterol levels. One key question that these guidelines answer is whether people should be taking cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins to prevent heart disease and stroke. The guidelines stress that
- Statins should be prescribed used for people who can benefit
- Any decision about treatment should come as a result of doctor discussion, that is, patients should work with their doctors to decide the best treatment – whether this means statins, lifestyle changes or some other therapy
Screening is the key to detecting high cholesterol. There are different blood tests to individually measure each type of cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends that adults aged 20 or older should get a cholesterol test or lipoprotein profile done every four to six years as part of a cardiovascular risk assessment.
Laboratories play an important role in achieving the goals of National Cholestrol Education Month by providing precise and accurate High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol assays to assist in the risk assessment and management of cardiovascular disease. However, laboratory test results should not be interpreted as results of a “stand-alone” test. The results of the tests need to be interpreted in correlation with clinical findings and additional tests or information.