For most of us maintaining our heart health is pretty high up on the agenda, but it seems longstanding medical advice could actually not be looking at the whole picture.
It has long been claimed that those with higher cholesterol levels are putting themselves at great risk of suffering cardiac problems than those with average or low levels.
But a new study has revealed that most major heart attacks actually occur in people with ‘normal’ cholesterol levels and other factors are at play.
Doctors in the UK have long prescribed statins – described by the NHS as a group of medicines that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood – based on guidelines that looked only at cholesterol.
This was the preventative measure taken to counteract the possibility of heart attack.
Then in 2013, guidelines in the USA changed to incorporate other factors that looked at overall heart health, rather than a single component – cholesterol.
And since this change has been made, the number of patients eligible to take statins because of the conditions of their ticker, leapt from 39% to 79%.
Meaning that the methodology used in the past was presenting a false picture of people’s heart health, because their cholesterol wasn’t high enough.
Michael Miedema, cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute, said: “Heart disease is a multifactorial process, and factors others than cholesterol, like smoking or high blood pressure, can raise your risk even if your cholesterol is normal. In fact, we found that the average cholesterol levels in this group of individuals were quite average.”
Out of the 1,062 patients in the trial, who were chosen because they had been treated for heart attacks in the period between January 2011 and December 2014, more than 50% had not actually visited a doctor for two years prior to their attack.
Miedema says: “The more recent cholesterol guidelines are clearly a big step in the right direction, but we need to have better systems and incentives in place to get patients the right assessment and treatments that could potentially be life-saving.”
The World Health Organisation says that cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally, as more people die from them than any other cause.
An estimated 17.5 million people died from CVDs in 2012, representing 31% of all global deaths. Of these deaths, an estimated 7.4 million were due to coronary heart disease and 6.7 million were due to stroke .