Cholesterol Puts Young Men at Risk

Wednesday, July 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) — If you think people in their 20s and 30s don't have to worry about their cholesterol, think again.

A study found that even men under 40 with high cholesterol run an increased risk of heart disease and premature death, underscoring the importance of early screening and preventive treatment.

High cholesterol in middle age is known to be a major risk factor for heart disease and heart attacks.

The new findings suggest that younger men with high cholesterol face a greater long-term risk than men diagnosed with the condition in middle age, in part because the longer high levels exist, the more damage they can cause.

The findings are contained in an analysis of studies on nearly 82,000 men ages 18 to 39 who were followed for up to 34 years. The results appear in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study was led by Dr. Jeremiah Stamler, emeritus professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Medical School.

The findings clearly support existing guidelines that recommend cholesterol tests at least every five years for adults starting at age 20, Dr. Scott M. Grundy of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas said in an accompanying editorial.

However, some insurance companies will not pay for screening tests, and some primary-care doctors are too busy to worry about long-term prevention, Grundy said.

The suggestion that cholesterol-lowering drugs or a change in diet can be started later in life without any harm is not accurate, he said.

Heart disease, the nation's No. 1 killer, is largely preventable and Stamler's study ``has demonstrated the immense value of long-term prevention,'' said Dr. David A. Meyerson, a Johns Hopkins cardiologist and spokesman for the American Heart Association.

Total cholesterol levels of 200 milligrams per deciliter or below are considered healthful; readings of 240 and above are considered high.

The research evaluated 81,488 men followed through the 1990s in three previous studies. Men were at greater risk for heart disease-related death if their total cholesterol at the outset was above 200.

Those with high levels were two to 3 1/2 times more likely to die of a heart disease-related death than men with healthful levels. They died four to nine years earlier than men with healthful levels.

Compared with men ages 40 to 59, the studies showed that for every 40 points that cholesterol levels increased, young men faced nearly twice the risk or more of dying of a heart attack during the follow-up years.


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