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Heart Health

Many People Don't Know How to Manage High Cholesterol

Although there is a great deal of publicity about high cholesterol, people who have it often aren’t sure how to manage their condition – even though they know they should.

That conclusion comes from a new survey by the American Heart Association (AHA).

The survey was conducted as part of Check.Change.Control.Cholesterol™, the association’s new initiative to help people better understand and manage their overall risk for cardiovascular disease, especially as it relates to cholesterol.

Participants included nearly 800 people from across the country with either a history of cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart attack, stroke) or at least one major cardiovascular disease risk factor, (e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes).

“We wanted to get a sense of what people know about their cholesterol risk and its connection to heart disease and stroke, as well as how people engage with their healthcare providers to manage their risks,” Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., a member of the AHA’s cholesterol advisory group, said in an AHA news release. “We found even among those people at the highest risk for heart disease and stroke, overall knowledge was lacking and there was a major disconnect between perceptions about cholesterol and the significance of its health impact.”

High cholesterol is a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke, causing about 2.6 million deaths each year. Yet, nearly half (47 percent) of survey respondents with a known history of or at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke, had not had their cholesterol checked within the past year. Respondents with high cholesterol reported more recent testing, although 21 percent of them had not had their cholesterol checked in the past year.

Among other survey findings:

Most people with high cholesterol said they understood the importance of managing their cholesterol, being confused, discouraged and uncertain about their ability to do so.

82 percent of all respondents identified a link between cholesterol and risk for heart disease and stroke.

Overall, people with a history of cardiovascular disease had lower perceptions of their real medical risk of cardiovascular disease.

Patients with a history of cardiovascular disease are at high risk for having another cardiovascular disease event, but among these patients, only 29 percent recognized they were high risk for another cardiovascular disease event.

Primary care providers were the healthcare professionals who participants talked about cholesterol with most often, and were more likely the ones to first diagnose high cholesterol.

The most common treatment recommendation given by healthcare providers were medication (79 percent), exercise (78 percent) and diet modifications (70 percent).

Patients with high cholesterol felt they were least informed about what should be their target body weight, the differences between the types of cholesterol (LDL vs HDL) and goals for cholesterol management.