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FOR RELEASE: September 16, 2004
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

One of Three Oklahomans has High Cholesterol
State Health Department Supports New Cholesterol Treatment Guidelines

One out of three Oklahomans has high cholesterol, which is a critical risk factor of heart disease onset and contributes to 43 percent of coronary heart disease deaths, according to officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). In Oklahoma, there were 8,162 deaths attributed to coronary heart disease in 2002.

During September, which is National Cholesterol Education Month, health officials are asking people who know they have high blood cholesterol to work with their health care provider to observe the new cholesterol guidelines. This will help prevent heart attacks and stroke by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. The old guidelines of the National

Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recommended cholesterol-lowering medications for high-risk people with LDL cholesterol levels of 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher. Today’s new recommendations call for drug therapy in almost all high-risk patients with LDL cholesterol of 100 mg/dL or higher.

“High-risk persons are those who have been told they have heart disease plus diabetes, continue persistent cigarette smoking, have poorly controlled high blood pressure, or have multiple risk factors of the metabolic syndrome (high triglyceride levels, low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, high blood glucose levels, and obesity), or have already had a heart attack and are at most risk immediately afterward,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Crutcher.

High cholesterol is often undetected until a heart attack or stroke occurs. Generally, healthy people with normal levels of cholesterol, who then lower their cholesterol, reduce their risk for a first-time coronary event by 37 percent. People can help reduce high cholesterol to a healthy level by choosing more nutritious foods including at least five fruits and vegetables a day, participating in moderate physical activity most days of the week, eliminating tobacco use, and controlling weight.

When there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it builds up in the walls of arteries. Over time, this buildup causes hardening of the arteries so they become narrowed and blood flow to the heart is slowed down or blocked. The blood carries oxygen to the heart and if enough blood and oxygen cannot reach the heart, a person may suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely shut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack, the leading cause of death in Oklahoma. If the plaque build-up in arteries loosens and flows to another part of the body, such as the brain, it may cause a blockage preventing blood flow and oxygen, resulting in a stroke, the third leading cause of death in Oklahoma.

People with heart disease and diabetes are at the greatest risk of a heart attack. Others can look at their LDL (bad) cholesterol level and other risk factors to evaluate their heart attack risk. Cholesterol-lowering treatment primarily aims to lower the level of artery-blocking LDL. Some risk factors of poor cholesterol include: diabetes, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, low HDL (good) cholesterol, family history of early heart disease, and older age.

The major NCEP recommendations of the updated guidelines include:

  • High-risk people: The general goal of cholesterol-lowering treatment remains the same. However, in order to reduce LDL cholesterol levels to under 100 mg/dL, the panel makes an LDL goal of less than 70 mg/dL a therapeutic option for people at very high risk of heart attack or death.
  • Moderately high risk: Moderately high-risk people are those who have multiple risk factors and are estimated to have a 10 to 20 percent chance of heart attack or cardiac death within 10 years. The new guidelines reinforce the need for treatment if LDL cholesterol levels are 130 mg/dL or higher, and add an optional consideration of drug therapy if levels are between 100-129 mg/dL.
  • In general, if drug therapy is used in people at high or moderately high risk, it should be aimed toward achieving a 30 to 40 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol.
  • Lower or Moderate risk: Recommendations for treatment in people at lower or moderate risk are unchanged.
  • Older people: Recommendations reinforce the idea that it is never too late to benefit from an intervention to lower cholesterol levels.

For additional information regarding cholesterol control, contact your health care provider, your local county health department, or the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Chronic Disease Service at 405-271-4072.

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