Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Taking medication may reduce bad cholesterol levels, but the risk of heart problems still lingers for people with a family history of the condition, new research shows.
Patients with these high numbers and a history of cardiovascular disease have nearly six times the risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke or another cardiovascular event than those with cholesterol numbers in a healthier range.
The findings were published in the October issue of Atherosclerosis.
About 52 percent of adults who took medicine to lower high cholesterol caused by familial hypercholesterolemia still had LDL measurements over 100mg/dL.
"The vast majority of individuals with FH in the United States continue to live without a diagnosis, barring them from the opportunity to receive appropriate care," Katherine Wilemon, a researcher at FH Foundation and study author, said in a news release. "Finding these individuals and initiating intensive treatment early in life is critical to preventing heart disease."
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the CASCADE FH registry on 1,900 people with an average age of 56. About 37 percent of the patients had atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease when they entered the study. The average LDL cholesterol of all patients at enrollment was LDL-C 145 mg/dl and 93 percent took drugs to lower those numbers.
The annualized cardiovascular event rate to treat high heart attack, stroke, and vascular surgeries were 2.21 per 100 patient-years for those with familial hypercholesterolemia. The rate was 4.57 for those who suffered prior cardiovascular episodes.
The researchers say these numbers show the need for people with familial hypercholesterolemia to address the condition earlier and more aggressively. The ideal target level for LDL-C should be under 70 mg/dL.
The findings also show people are getting familial hypercholesterolemia diagnosis too late, underscoring the need for the medical community to bring more awareness to the problem.
Most patients were taking between three and six therapies to treat high LDL cholesterol. Those drugs included high-intensity statins, PCSK9 inhibitors and LDL apheresis, which were most successful for lowering LDL cholesterol.
Patients who took more lipid-lowering therapies after follow-up cut LDL cholesterol by 50 percent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 95 million adults in the United States older than age 20 have total cholesterol numbers higher than 200 mg/dL. Close to 29 million adults have levels higher than 240 mg/dL.
"Today, there are more safe and effective treatments for individuals with FH," said Samuel Gidding, a researcher at the FH Foundation and a study author. "With multiple LDL-C lowering drugs, plant sterols, LDL apheresis and exciting experimental therapies in development, individuals should advocate with their healthcare providers to add treatments until their LDL targets are achieved."