Simultaneously controlling your high blood pressure, also known as HBP, and high cholesterol may cut your risk for heart disease by half or more, according to new research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation. Interestingly, researchers found that fewer than one in three people achieve this goal.
This was true for Go Red Spokesperson Kimberly Montegomery who had been watching her high blood pressure numbers but not her cholesterol. The heart attack survivor now does cardio activities every day and has adjusted her diet to be low in cholesterol and sodium.
Millions affected by this double threat
Undertreated high blood pressure and cholesterol affect millions of Americans — posing a major public health threat, says Brent M. Egan, M.D., lead study author and a professor of medicine and pharmacology at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, SC.
“The reality is, we know more than enough to prevent 75 percent of heart disease and strokes, but we’re not doing everything we could be doing or even doing it at a reasonable level,” he says. “We’ve made some gradual improvements over the years, but there is still a lot of progress to be made.”
Researchers also found:
- People who are older, diabetic, have cardiovascular disease or are Hispanic or African-American may benefit most from managing both conditions, including medications.
- Visiting your doctor at least twice a year could help.
High blood pressure doubles heart disease risk
High blood pressure is a condition that makes the heart work harder than normal. Left untreated, it scars and damages your arteries and can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, eye damage, heart failure and fatty buildups in the arteries, called atherosclerosis.
High blood pressure affects about 33 percent of the U.S. adult population and doubles the risk for heart disease. About 32 million Americans have dangerously high total blood cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or higher.
Previous research indicates that treating high blood pressure reduces the risk of heart disease by 25 percent and treating high cholesterol in hypertensive patients can lower the risk by more than 35 percent, researchers say.
The findings are based on data of more than 17,000 American adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys during in 1988-’94, 1999-2004 and 2005-’10. In addition to reviewing patients’ blood pressure and cholesterol levels, researchers considered race, age, insurance status, whether patients smoked, had diabetes, had diagnosed heart disease and/or chronic kidney disease, and if they visited a doctor every year.
Know your numbers
Cholesterol readings need closer attention, Egan says. “If patients’ cholesterol tests show a good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) level, which is the healthy, protective cholesterol, then the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) number might get overlooked.
“Unfortunately, not all HDL is equally protective and some people with a normal HDL are at high risk,” he says. “In those patients, there might be a false sense of assurance that cholesterol really isn’t a problem. But LDL and non-HDL readings are the ones to really watch.
“Patients seeing their doctors for blood pressure treatment should ask about their LDL and non-HDL levels and make sure both are under control at the same time,” advises Egan.