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Cholesterol control: As important now as ever

If you’re 65 or older, should you worry about high cholesterol? Until recently, many doctors might have said no, the consensus being that aggressive cholesterol management isn’t effective past a certain age and that high cholesterol may not be as harmful in older folk anyway.

But the National Cholesterol Education Program urges older Americans—and the doctors who treat them—to take aim at high cholesterol. In fact, researchers say the benefits of cholesterol control among this age group are significant and include:

  • a better quality of life
  • a longer life
  • a dramatic reduction in heart attack and stroke risk
  • a lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD)

Yet additional research from the Alliance for Aging Research indicates that many older Americans with high cholesterol do not take statins, drugs proven to cause the largest drop in cholesterol levels. In particular, statins are highly effective at reducing levels of LDL cholesterol, the most harmful type.

Undertreatment of high cholesterol in this age group is alarming because older Americans are also at greatest risk for CHD, a condition that results from cholesterol buildup in the arteries. Many people with CHD aren’t aware because they feel well even though their arteries are filled with plaque.

Needless to say, keeping tabs on your cholesterol is a way to safeguard your heart health and prolong your life—no matter how old you are. Follow these guidelines:

  • Have your total cholesterol, including HDLs (high-density lipoproteins, the “good” kind), tested once every five years.
  • If you have high cholesterol, take steps to lower it—especially if you have other risk factors for CHD, such as smoking, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes. Start eating a diet low in fat and cholesterol, begin a program of regular physical activity, reach a healthy weight and if you use tobacco, quit!
  • If lifestyle measures don’t work, your doctor may prescribe a statin or other cholesterol-lowering drug depending on your overall health status.