Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Many unaware of cholesterol's role in heart disease

By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH of the Jerusalem Post

The faster people reduce their risk factors for heart disease and the faster people with symptoms go to the hospital, the greater their chances for survival. This is the message of World Heart Day, organized by the Israel Heart Society as part of the International Heart Federation's global events in over 100 countries.

World Heart Day was marked on Sunday, but the public campaign to increase awareness of heart disease will continue, says Prof. Basil Lewis, head of the society who works at the Lady David Carmel Medical Center and the Technion's Rappaport Medical Faculty in Haifa.

One of the most important numbers that people should know is their cholesterol level - specifically that of their low-density lipoprotein (LDL,) which should be as low as possible (70 if someone is at high risk for heart disease.)

The high-density lipoprotein (HDL,) which helps protect against heart disease, should be as high as possible, says Lewis. "Many people haven't realized that cholesterol is greatest single factor that accounts for heart attacks and vascular disease, even more than obesity. If you smoke and/or have hypertension, your risk is even greater."

High LDL levels are very treatable, he continues. "Go to your doctor periodically to be tested and to be prescribed a statin, which lowers LDL. "In England, you can even get a small dose of statins over the counter, without a prescription, but we do not recommend this in Israel," he said, as accessibility to doctors here is very high.

"If I had my way, I'd even put a statin into the National Water Carrier," he said with a bit of exaggeration. "We have no vested interest in promoting one drug or another, but we want people to lower their cholesterol levels."

So far, he said, there is no drug proven to raise HDL levels, but "we are researching it. Exercise certainly helps," Lewis adds.

There is also not enough awareness in Israel of the need to rush to a hospital if you have symptoms of a heart attack, including chest pains, shooting pain up the arm, pressure on the chest, shortness of breath and the like.

If you do suffer a heart attack, he says, "don't wait to go to your health fund clinic the next day. Go immediately to the hospital!" Israelis typically wait to see if the symptoms go away by themselves, and women take even longer to seek help, he says.

A recent Teleseker survey of men and women aged 45 to 65 found that many were unaware of the importance of high LDL cholesterol in the risk of heart disease.

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