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Study highlights benefits of cholesterol, BP control


Simultaneously controlling hypertension and high cholesterol may cut the risk of heart disease by half or more, according to a study, although fewer than one in three people achieve this goal.

As reported in the July 2 issue of the journal Circulation, researchers also found that prescribing medications to better manage blood pressure and cholesterol especially would benefit people who are older, diabetic, have cardiovascular disease or are Hispanic or African American. Visiting a physician at least twice a year also could make a big difference in heart health.

Undertreated hypertension and cholesterol affect millions of Americans, posing a major public health threat, said Brent M. Egan, MD, the study’s lead author and a professor of medicine and pharmacology at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C.

“The reality is, we know more than enough to prevent 75% of heart disease and strokes, but we’re not doing everything we could be doing or even doing it at a reasonable level,” Egan said in a news release. “We’ve made some gradual improvements over the years, but there is still a lot of progress to be made.”

Hypertension affects about 33% of the U.S. adult population and doubles the risk for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. About 32 million Americans have dangerously high total serum cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or higher. Previous research indicates that treating hypertension reduces the risk of heart disease by 25% and treating high cholesterol in hypertensive patients can lower the risk by more than 35%, the researchers said.

The latest findings are based on data of more than 17,000 American adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys during 1988-94, 1999-2004 and 2005-10. In addition to reviewing patients’ blood pressure and cholesterol levels, researchers considered race, age and insurance status; whether patients smoked, had diabetes, had diagnosed heart disease and/or chronic kidney disease; and whether they visited a physician every year.

Cholesterol readings need closer attention, Egan said in the news release. “If patients’ cholesterol tests show a good high-density lipoprotein level … then the low-density lipoprotein number might get overlooked.

“Unfortunately, not all HDL is equally protective and some people with a normal HDL are at high risk. In those patients, there might be a false sense of assurance that cholesterol really isn’t a problem. But LDL and non-HDL readings are the ones to really watch. Patients seeing their doctors for blood pressure treatment should ask about their LDL and non-HDL levels and make sure both are under control at the same time.”

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