The Deadly Silent Killer: Cholesterol’s Impact on Americans

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News Team

Millions of Americans are born with a genetic predisposition to high levels of lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), a type of cholesterol that can lead to fatal heart attacks and strokes at an early age. Unlike LDL, known as the “bad” cholesterol, Lp(a) has the additional dangerous characteristic of inducing the formation of blood clots. This genetic condition affects entire families, claiming the lives of parents, uncles, and siblings in their 40s and 50s.

It is estimated that up to 64 million Americans have elevated levels of Lp(a), with it being more common among people of African and South Asian descent. Routine blood cholesterol tests could detect Lp(a), but they generally do not, largely because there is no effective treatment against it. However, early detection of Lp(a) is part of doctor-recommended preventive care.

Dr. Sahil Parikh, director of endovascular services at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York, supports broader testing for Lp(a), noting that while in the past he has avoided testing for which there is no treatment, now he does it by giving patients hope in the face of the prospect of new treatments. An experimental drug, called pelacarsen from Novartis, has been shown in preliminary studies to significantly reduce the lipoprotein(a) levels in 98% of participants.

Efforts toward broader Lp(a) screening could save lives even before the arrival of effective treatment. Other drugs from companies like Eli Lilly and Amgen are also in various stages of research, showing promising results. Lori Welsh, a 51-year-old woman from Dublin, Ohio, whose family has been devastated by elevated Lp(a) levels, is participating in a clinical trial of pelacarsen. After experiencing a heart attack at age 47, Welsh, like other patients, remains waiting for effective treatment.

In the meantime, health professionals are focusing their attention on treating other risk factors for heart disease, such as blood pressure management and the use of statins to reduce other types of cholesterol. With the development of these new treatments, there is hope for greater detection of Lp(a), which could make a significant difference in the prevention of serious heart diseases.

Identification of patients at high risk allows for preventive measures such as maintaining a normal weight, regular exercise, cessation of smoking, and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The story of Lori Welsh and her family underscores the importance of awareness and proactive action in the face of this silent but potentially deadly risk. Entire families have been devastated by premature heart attacks and strokes, a common story among those with high levels of Lp(a). In the United States, millions of citizens are born with a genetic predisposition to extremely high levels of a type of cholesterol called lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), which causes fatal heart attacks and strokes at an early age, and often without people being aware of their risk.

NBC News noted that, unlike LDL known as the “bad” cholesterol, which contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, Lp(a) has an additional dangerous characteristic: it induces formation of blood clots. Since it is entirely genetic, neither diet nor exercise has any effect on Lp(a) levels. The consequence is a high probability of life-threatening heart disease that affects entire families, claiming the lives of parents, uncles and siblings in their 40s and 50s.

It is estimated that up to 64 million Americans have elevated levels of Lp(a), with it being more common among people of African and South Asian descent. Although routine blood cholesterol tests could detect Lp(a), they generally do not, largely because there is so far no effective treatment against it. Similar to other forms of high cholesterol, elevated Lp(a) has no symptoms. However, early detection of Lp(a) is part of doctor-recommended preventive care.

Dr. Sahil Parikh, director of endovascular services at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York, supports broader testing for Lp(a), noting that while in the past he has avoided testing for which there is no treatment, now he does it by giving patients hope in the face of the prospect of new treatments. An experimental drug, called pelacarsen from Novartis, has been shown in preliminary studies to significantly reduce the lipoprotein(a) levels in 98% of participants.

Efforts toward broader Lp(a) screening could save lives even before the arrival of effective treatment. Although it remains to be established whether Reducing Lp(a) leads to a decreased risk of fatal heart attacks and strokes; other drugs from companies like Eli Lilly and Amgen are also in various stages of research, showing promising results. Lori Welsh, a 51-year-old woman years from Dublin, Ohio, whose family has been devastated by elevated Lp(a) levels, is participating in a clinical trial of pelacarsen.

After experiencing a heart attack at age 47, Welsh, like other patients, remains waiting for effective treatment. In the meantime, health professionals are focusing their attention on treating other risk factors for heart disease, such as blood pressure management and the use of statins to reduce other types of cholesterol. With the development of these new treatments, there is hope for greater detection of Lp(a), which could make a significant difference in prevention of serious heart diseases.

Identification of patients at high risk allows for preventive measures such as maintaining a normal weight, regular exercise, cessation of smoking, and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The story of Lori Welsh and her family underscores the importance of awareness and proactive action in the face of this silent but potentially deadly risk.

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