Patients Unaware of How to Meet Cholesterol Goals

Forty-seven percent of patients with heart disease did not receive a cholesterol check within the past year.

While individuals with high cholesterol are generally aware they must take steps to manage their condition, a new study conducted by the American Heart Association indicates these patients are unaware of how to reduce their cholesterol levels.

The new survey was conducted as part of an initiative to help individuals understand and reduce their risks for cardiovascular disease, called Check.Change.Control.Cholesterol. The initiative includes a campaign to increase public awareness of best practices to identify risks and create a treatment plan to improve cardiovascular health.

Included in the study were 80 patients with a history of cardiovascular events or at least 1 risk factor.

"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," said Mary Ann Bauman, MD, a member of the American Heart Association's cholesterol advisory group. "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 major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and strokes, and is known to cause approximately 2.6 million deaths per year, according to the study.

Despite serious risk factors, the study authors discovered that 47% of patients had not received a cholesterol check within the past year; however, 21% of patients with high cholesterol reported having their cholesterol checked.

A majority of patients reported knowing the importance of cholesterol management, but were confused, uncertain, or discouraged about their ability to achieve that goal, according to the study.

The authors found that 82% of patients understood the link between high cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and stroke, suggesting that education regarding how to reduce cholesterol is needed more than information about the risks.

Overall, the authors found that patients with a history of cardiovascular events had a reduced understanding of their risk for developing heart disease. These patients are at a high risk of experiencing another cardiovascular event, but only 29% reported an understanding of this association, according to the study.

This population was more likely to discuss cholesterol levels with their primary care providers, who were also more likely to diagnose the patients with high cholesterol. Upon diagnosis, 79% of patients were advised to take medication, 78% were advised to increase physical activity, and 70% were advised to improve their diet, according to the study.

The authors found that patients diagnosed with high cholesterol felt uninformed about their target weight, the differences between LDL and HDL cholesterol, and cholesterol goals, according to the study. These findings suggest that primary care physicians should increase education provided to these patients so they fully understand how to achieve cholesterol goals and the harms associated with high cholesterol.

"Research suggests even modestly elevated cholesterol levels can lead to heart disease later in life, but these survey results show an alarming lack of communication between healthcare providers and those most at risk for cardiovascular disease," Dr Bauman said. "Current guidelines call for lifestyle modifications as a first line treatment, but that's often not enough. We also need to talk to patients about other risk factors, including genetics and family history, to determine the most effective course of treatment for each individual."