After years of conflicting results, the largest study of its kind found that elderly patients’ levels of “good” cholesterol can be an important indicator of their risk of dying of heart disease, scientists say.
Among younger adults, it is well-established that low blood levels of “good” cholesterol, also known as HDL or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, are associated with heart risk. So are high blood levels of total cholesterol, which includes both “good” and “bad” cholesterol.
But in the elderly, scientists have come up with conflicting results. That has led some researchers to speculate that abnormal cholesterol levels may be less sinister in the elderly; the thinking is that people who have made it to old age are not susceptible to damage from cholesterol.
That would make cholesterol screening - recommended by the government for all adults - pointless in the aged.
In a new government study, involving 3,904 men and women ages 70 to 90, those with low levels of HDL cholesterol were 2-1/2 times more likely to die of heart disease than those with high levels. The five-year study ended in 1989.
High total cholesterol levels were less consistently a predictor of heart deaths in the elderly, researchers said. But the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol was consistently important in assessing risk.
The findings appear in today’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.