May 01, 2011

LDL cholesterol

New measurements of risk

LDL cholesterol

You've been faithfully taking the statin drug your doctor prescribed to help lower your low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol. In fact, your LDL cholesterol level has dropped to the range targeted by you and your doctor.

Does this mean that it's clear sailing in terms of your risk of developing narrowing or clogging of arteries that can lead to heart attack or stroke?

Maybe not. Recent research has found that — other things being equal — lowering your LDL cholesterol level into an ideal range reduces your risk of having a heart attack or stroke by about one-third. That's a good start, but you may still be at risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Research is pointing toward another major cholesterol-related risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Studies show you're at higher risk when the cholesterol in your bloodstream is packaged into many small particles, rather than fewer large particles.

This knowledge is leading to new types of cholesterol testing and a renewed emphasis on lifestyle changes and other interventions as a way to reduce the number of small LDL cholesterol particles.

Size matters

Elevated LDL cholesterol is a major risk factor in the narrowing, hardening or clogging of arteries (atherosclerosis). When atherosclerosis develops in arteries that supply the heart or brain with blood, this can lead to heart attack, other forms of heart disease and stroke.

LDL cholesterol has the ability to penetrate the inner lining of cells (endothelial cells) of an artery. Once LDL...