We have all heard over the course of the last several decades that one’s cholesterol level predicts their risk of heart attack and stroke. Patients frequently ask me, “How could I have heart disease – my cholesterol level is normal?” or report to me, “I don’t have to worry because my good cholesterol is high”.
I find that many patients will place too much value on cholesterol levels rather than getting a complete look at the rest of their risk profile. While cholesterol levels are important, they only tell one “chapter” in what is in essence “the book of your cardiac risk story.”
As you likely already know, cholesterol is a type of fat found within all cells and is free-floating in blood. The two most common proteins that carry cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein (also known as LDL) known as“bad cholesterol”, and high-density lipoprotein (also known as HDL) known as “good cholesterol.” The LDL carries fats into the tissue while the LDL carries fats to the liver to get out of the body.
Cholesterol carried by LDL can invade the walls of blood vessels and also lead to inflammation within the walls of these blood vessels. Cholesterol in this way forms the main constituent of “plaque” which builds up within the walls of blood vessels. Newer tests allow us to test the levels of inflammation in vessel walls.
Interestingly, we know from observational data that the cholesterol levels are only one component of a patient’s overall risk of developing plaque within the arteries, also known as atherosclerosis. Some patients have a “great” cholesterol risk profile (low LDL, high HDL) but still have heart attacks and strokes. On the other hand, we all know those people who have terrible lifestyle habits and poor cholesterol levels, but never have an issue. We know this happens because it isn’t just about the carrying protein (LDL and HDL) levels that cause the problem-- it is the actual formation of plaque that determines your risk of heart attack and stroke.
So what does this mean? Although a traditional, basic lipid panel can give you a hint at what is happening in your arteries, you need more information to really get a fuller picture. At Vitality, we use the current literature and newer testing options to get the best answers possible and then help guide you on your wellness journey.
In the month of February, we are offering an in-depth set of heart inflammatory markers and risk assessment so you have a much better idea of what is happening on the inside, and what can be done to improve your heart future! We hope you take advantage of this unique risk assessment and see what your heart is trying to tell you.
Learn more here.