When the Foundation of the National Lipid Association, the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, Mended Hearts and pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and Regeneron joined forces to form Cholesterol Counts, a year-long online poll designed to gauge what Americans know about cholesterol, they got some startling news about African Americans.
The first wave of results from Cholesterol Counts found African Americans do not know enough about their cholesterol. The results show 62 percent of African-American respondents said they are not sure of or do not recall their LDL cholesterol levels.
According to the American Heart Association, nearly a third of African-American men and women have high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. This is particularly troubling because high cholesterol— specifically LDL cholesterol—is “directly related to the incidence of heart attack and stroke,” says Ralph Vicari, M.D., a cardiologist and Foundation of the National Lipid Association member. “Particularly in African Americans, a population where incidence of heart disease and stroke is so high.” Heart disease is responsible for 1 in 4 African-American deaths every year, and we are twice as likely to die from stroke as our white counterparts.
The poll also found 28 percent of African Americans agree that managing their high LDL levels is a top priority, but 41 percent reported not doing enough on that front.
The question is why?
“Based on the poll, [the reasons are] multifactoral,” Dr. Vicari says. “One, black people didn’t seem to be too concerned about their cholesterol—above and beyond the white population. And, two, they have limited access to health care. Twenty-six percent of African Americans said they’d never had their cholesterol checked, which is almost double that of the white population. People don’t ask doctors to do it, and doctors don’t recommend it.”
This failure is in spite of guidelines, which call for adults to have their cholesterol levels checked every five years. “The guidelines are clear,” Dr. Vicari says, “but if a person who has 10 different medical problems goes to a primary care physician, it [checking cholesterol] might fall by the wayside, particularly in somebody who isn’t extremely high risk for cholesterol.”
Part of Cholesterol Counts’ mission is to help Americans take an active role in understanding that there is more to be done to control high cholesterol and start the conversation between patients and their physicians.
“The hallmarks of lowering cholesterol are appropriate: diet, regular physical activity and talking to your doctor about lowering your cholesterol level,” Dr. Vicari says. “You can change it through diet, exercise and, if need be, medication—after talking to your doctor. Be proactive about this. If people take the Cholesterol Counts poll online—look at that information and talk about it with other people. And if they haven’t been screened by their doctor in the last five years, for Pete’s sakes, tell your doctor to do it!”