Women with heart disease are getting far too little treatment for dangerously high levels of so-called “bad” cholesterol, which can lead to early death, researchers found.
The study in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association found that fewer than one of every 10 female heart patients had received treatment that lowered their bad cholesterol to a safe level.
With proper treatment, researchers said 80 percent of them could have achieved safe levels of LDL, the low-density lipoprotein cholesterol that promotes fatty deposits in arteries that can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Treatment usually requires cholesterollowering drugs, controlling high blood pressure and diabetes, and lifestyle changes including quitting smoking, losing weight, eating properly and exercising.
Dr. Helmut G. Schrott, the lead author and an associate professor of preventive and internal medicine at the University of Iowa, said the findings suggest that either doctors aren’t treating women aggressively enough, or women aren’t taking the prescribed drugs.
“I suspect it is the first one,” he said.
Almost half of the 2,763 women in the nationwide study were on cholesterol-lowering drugs, but only 9 percent of the total had LDL levels at or below 100 milligrams per tenth of a liter of blood, the federally recommended maximum for heart patients.
Part of the problem, said an accompanying editorial by experts not involved in the study, is that women are often believed to be less threatened by heart disease or less responsive to treatment - both erroneous assumptions.
The editorial said several studies have shown that male heart patients face a similar level of inadequate treatment, but more concern surrounds their situation because of the perceived greater risk.