Monday, September 17, 2007

Most American Women Don't Know Their Cholesterol Level

Most American Women Don't Know Their Cholesterol Level

Medical News today

17 Sep 2007

80 per cent of women in the US between 18 and 44 don't know their cholesterol level, despite the fact that cholesterol is a major risk factor for the biggest killer of American women, heart disease.

Most women don't understand about cholesterol, concluded a recent survey by the Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR), an advocacy organization based in Washington DC.

President and CEO of the SWHR, Phyllis Greenberger, said:

"Heart disease is a serious threat to women. That fact that only one in five women surveyed knew their cholesterol level shows how much work remains to be done."

"You can't wait until mid-life or later to monitor or manage your cholesterol, which is a major risk factor for heart disease in both women and men," she explained.

A spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, Dr Mary Ann Bauman, who is an internal medicine specialist said:

"For the most part, women do not believe that heart disease risk pertains to them."

"They are often aware of the risk factors, but underestimate their own personal risk," she added.

Bauman suggested the reason was women tended to ignore themselves and focused on looking after others.

She added that despite many public health campaigns, women were still more concerned about other diseases such as breast cancer.

"Most women do not have a fear of heart disease, so it is easy to ignore the risks or warning signs," said Bauman.

Over 50 per cent of the women surveyed aged between 18 and 44 were concerned about cholesterol in general but only one in 5 knew what her personal cholesterol count was. 25 per cent did not even know how cholesterol is tested.

High cholesterol raises the risk of angina, stroke, heart disease and heart attack.

About half of American adults have high cholesterol, according to statistics from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's (NHLBI) National Cholesterol Education Program.

A person's cholesterol count is made up of three things: low density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol), high density lipoproteins (HDL or "good" cholesterol) and triglycerides, a type of blood fat.

According to the American Heart Association, you should aim for a "desirable" total cholesterol count that is under 200 mg per decilitre or less than 5.2 millimoles per litre.

High LDL increases risk of heart disease and stroke because it promotes deposits of plaque that make blood vessels narrower. An optimum LDL count should be no higher than 100.

Low HDL is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and an optimum level for women says the SWHR is 50 and above.

Some risk factors for heart disease are controllable and some are uncontrollable, like family history, age and being post menopausal.

Apart from cholesterol, the controllable risk factors for heart disease include: smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and a sedentary lifestyle.

Bauman said the good news is there are several ways a woman can control cholesterol and reduce her risk of heart disease:

Take regular exercise.

Maintain a healthy weight.

Eat lots of fruit and vegetables.

Keep to a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol.

Go for regular health screening, and check cholesterol every 5 years say the AHA and the NHLBI.

Giving up smoking and tobacco also reduces heart disease risk.

People with a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol should probably start regular health screening earlier than the recommended age of 20. Bauman said that lifestyle changes at a young age make a difference later in life:

"I think of heart disease as a disease of adolescence which manifests itself in adulthood," said Bauman.

"We must start early!" she urged.

Click here for Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR).

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