Study: High levels of triglycerides are a strong predictor of stroke

Monday, December 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) _ Researchers have identified another predictor of stroke that some doctors may be overlooking: high triglycerides.

A study found that heart patients who have high levels of these fatty particles in their blood run a higher risk of a stroke, even if their cholesterol is low.

Doctors have long identified high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and old age as factors that raise the risk of stroke. And a study published last year in the American Heart Association journal Circulation showed that high triglycerides sharply increase the risk of dying from a heart attack.

However, this study is the first to identify triglycerides as an independent risk factor for stroke, said study author Dr. David Tanne, director of the stroke unit in the department of neurology at Sheba Medical Center in Israel.

``We've known for some time about the traditional risk factors, but those don't give us the whole story,'' Tanne said. ``The lesson from our study is, in addition to managing well the bad cholesterol, one should not ignore the triglycerides.''

Further research is needed to determine whether the results apply to people without heart disease, Tanne said.

The findings appear in Tuesday's issue of Circulation.

Dr. Dion Graybeal, assistant professor in the department of neurology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said Tanne's findings have convinced him that doctors have been overlooking an important predictor of stroke.

``Cholesterol is where all the money's been, where all the research has been, where all the fuss has been,'' Graybeal said.

He said the study may encourage doctors to consider prescribing drugs that lower triglycerides as well as bad cholesterol.

Logic might suggest that doctors should have known to be wary of triglycerides, or any type of blood fat in the arteries. But Tanne said earlier studies did not show a clear connection between stroke and triglycerides, probably because researchers focused on fatal strokes and left out other types.

The new study links triglycerides with ischemic stroke and transient ischemic attacks, which are ``mini-strokes.'' Ischemic strokes are the most common form, occurring when an artery feeding the brain is blocked by a clot.

For six to eight years, researchers in Tanne's study followed 11,177 patients with heart disease but no history of stroke.

Those with high levels of triglycerides, or over 200 milligrams per deciliter, had a nearly 30 percent higher risk of stroke. The heart association says the normal level for triglycerides is less than 150.

However, Graybeal said the findings are skewed by the narrow focus on Israelis, whose diet and genetics may differ from those of most Americans.