FYI from the NHLBI Index

September 2006: Vol. 7, Issue 2
Feature Articles

September is National Cholesterol Education Month

NHLBI Undergoes Reorganization

September is National Cholesterol Education Month

The National Cholesterol Education Program of the NHLBI sponsors National Cholesterol Education Month to help raise awareness of the risks associated with having high cholesterol.  The goals of the education program are to help everyone understand what cholesterol is, how it affects heart health, and what steps each of us can take to improve our health through better management of our cholesterol.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty chemical that is found in blood.  It is a normal, necessary component for development of cell membranes.  However, too much cholesterol, over time, can produce serious consequences.  One type of cholesterol, called low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as ˇ§badˇ¨ cholesterol because of its association with increased risk of heart disease, specifically the development and progression of atherosclerosis.  A second type of cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is commonly referred to as ˇ§goodˇ¨ cholesterol because it has been associated with cardiovascular protection.

Why are cholesterol levels so important?

High levels of LDL cholesterol are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, especially heart attack and stroke.  Over time, high bad cholesterol promotes the development of atherosclerotic plaques in arteries.  Plaques restrict blood flow and can become a life-threatening danger whenever they rupture, causing arterial blockage, subsequent lack of oxygen, and cellular death in nearby body tissue.

How do I determine my cholesterol level?

The only reliable way to determine your cholesterol level is to have a blood test.  If you donˇ¦t know your cholesterol level, tell your doctor you wish to be tested.  You will need to fast for a brief period, usually overnight, before a blood sample is taken.

What amount of ˇ§badˇ¨ cholesterol is okay?

Current recommendations set forth by the Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults, known as the Adult Treatment Panel III (or ATP III), are that an LDL concentration (in mg/dl) of less than 100 is optimal, 100ˇV129 is near optimal/above optimal, 130ˇV159 is borderline high, 160ˇV169 is high, and 190 or greater is very high.

You may also see your test results expressed in terms of total cholesterol.  ATP III guidelines set less than 200 as desirable, 200ˇV239 as borderline high, and 240 or greater as high.  Additionally, HDL less than 40 is considered low and 60 or greater is considered high.

How do I lower my cholesterol?

Begin by talking to your doctor.  Tell your physician that you want to take control of your high cholesterol.  In many cases modifying your diet by reducing the amount of fats, especially saturated and trans fats, and getting more exercise will help lower the bad cholesterol and increase the level of good cholesterol.  However, for some people, diet and exercise alone fail to produce the desired cholesterol-lowering results.  If you find yourself in this group, your physician will likely prescribe a medication to help lower your cholesterol.

Ultimately, itˇ¦s up to you to take the first step.  You can reduce your cholesterol.  Know your cholesterol numbers, see your physician, follow the dietary and exercise advice you are given, and if you are prescribed cholesterol lowering medication, adhere faithfully to the treatment regimen.

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Modified 9/15/06
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NHLBI Undergoes Reorganization

Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, NHLBI Director, recently announced the reorganization of two NHLBI extramural divisions. The Division of Heart and Vascular Diseases (DHVD) will become the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases (DCVD) and the Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications (DECA) will become the Division of Prevention and Population Sciences (DPPS).

The change is consistent with the Instituteˇ¦s vision to take an international lead in cardiovascular research by supporting programs that are innovative, creative, and at the cutting edge of biomedical science.

The purpose of restructuring is to create a more effective organization - one that is aligned with our vision, optimizes our talent and leadership capabilities, strengthens coordination within the Institute, better integrates basic research and clinical trial components, and emphasizes prevention and population sciences. The change will become effective on September 5, 2006.

Modified 9/15/06
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