Teenagers with high cholesterol levels have an increased risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular events during middle age, according to a new landmark study led by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM).
This increased risk continues even in those who were able to lower their cholesterol levels down to a healthy level before reaching their late thirties.
The research makes a strong case for doctors to intervene early to treat high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) (bad cholesterol). It also provides guidelines for future intervention studies aimed at stemming the worldwide epidemic of heart disease and stroke.
This ongoing study began 35 years ago, recruiting 5,000 young adults aged 18 to 30. It has been tracking this cohort ever since to understand the contribution of individual characteristics, lifestyle and environmental factors contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease later in life.
"Damage to the arteries done early in life may be irreversible and appears to be cumulative. For this reason, doctors may want to consider prescribing lifestyle changes and also medications to lower high LDL cholesterol levels in young adults in order to prevent problems further down the road," said Dr. Domanski.
The researchers used complex mathematical modelling to understand how cardiovascular risk increases with rise in cumulative exposure to LDL cholesterol over an average of 22 years.
American College of Cardiology's Cholesterol Management Guidelines :
Lifestyle measures can be used to lower high LDL levels during the teenage years. Exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy body mass index and sticking on to a healthy diet plans with low saturated animal fats.
Doctors must consider prescribing cholesterol-lowering medications like statins to prevent heart disease in those ages 20 to 39, who have elevated cholesterol levels, mainly if they have a family history of early-onset heart disease.
"Cardiovascular disease remains the biggest killer in the world, and this new finding provides a potential way to save many lives," said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore and the John Z.