June 18th, 2010
11:44 AM ET
By David Martin
Rich nation or poor, high blood pressure and smoking pose the biggest risks for stroke, according to a new 22-country study released Friday.
January 29th, 2009
10:37 AM ET
As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.
Asked by Kate, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
"My 10-year-old is overweight and our doctor suggested he start taking statins. Is he too young to begin this type of medication? Is it even safe?"
Strange as it sounds, in rare cases prescribing statins to kids as young as 8-years-old is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
But certainly, not every child who is overweight needs such treatment.
The academy recommends that doctors use the following criteria when prescribing statins to kids: a child’s LDL level above 160 plus two risk factors, such as being overweight and high blood pressure. Or a child with no risk factors but an LDL level above 190.
Although controversial to some, many experts agree that these cholesterol-lowering drugs are safe, and the benefits outweigh any potential side effects.
The American Academy of Pediatrics looks at it as a preventive measure, hoping to avoid serious health problems later in life. The U.S. has a generation of children developing adult-like health conditions that will put them at high risk for blood clots and heart disease by their mid-30s if parents and doctors don’t monitor it.
That’s one reason, with an estimated one in three of our kids overweight, pediatricians are beginning to track weight and cholesterol levels starting at age 2.
But is medication the only answer? Absolutely not. Parents first need to exhaust all diet and exercise options. Take walks at night or race around the living room to burn extra calories each day. And lead by example. If you make healthy food choices, your kids will pick those habits as well. Small changes can save kids from years of potential health problems. For an overweight child, losing just 5 percent of their body weight can reduce cholesterol levels and prevent the need for medication.
December 12th, 2008
11:25 AM ET
By Caitlin Hagan
Everyone is afraid of something. Some people are scared of heights. Some people hate small spaces. Some people can't stand snakes. Me? I'm afraid of having my blood drawn. Luckily (or unluckily depending on your perspective), I was able to dodge it for years. But that all changed at my annual physical last January. At the time my only concern was the needle going into my arm but days later when the doctor called with my results, I learned I had a much bigger problem: high cholesterol. Despite being a healthy non-smoking 24-year-old, my cholesterol levels were much too high. I had to lower my numbers or I faced a lifetime of medicine.
For a few months I made an effort to reduce my saturated fat intake. Most mornings I took a quick walk around my neighborhood for 30 minutes. I thought high cholesterol was an easy problem to solve if I just stopped eating cheese and exercised more. But another blood test four months later proved me wrong; not only had my numbers not changed at all, but my doctor wanted to write a prescription immediately. I needed to make some drastic changes but I had no idea where to start.
My parents don’t have high cholesterol and I was at a loss to understand how I did. What foods did I need to avoid? What foods did I need to start eating? What lifestyle changes did I need to make? What, exactly, is cholesterol anyway? Armed with all these questions I started researching and what I learned was pretty sobering. Research has shown that people with high cholesterol in their 20s and 30s are more likely to suffer from heart disease later in life. Women especially need to beware because heart disease kills more women annually than any other affliction. My goal became very clear: Get my heart in shape now and save myself from possible trauma later.
Fixing my cholesterol meant making some major lifestyle changes. I joined a gym and with my new membership came a new mentality. To keep perspective, I remind myself that I'm working out to elevate my heart rate, not to drop ten pounds. I love the instant gratification of leaving an hourlong cardio class knowing that I might not have lost any weight but I literally worked my heart out. On off days I walk a two mile loop around my neighborhood to soak up some sunshine while I exercise. My goal is to move my body and elevate my heart rate once every day, either through a cardio class, a weightlifting class, a yoga class, or hiking or walking outside.
Of course, you cannot keep your cholesterol levels in check without healthy eating. Over the last several months I have restricted my diet to portions of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and omegas 3s. I rarely drink soda or eat fried food (although I randomly indulge in French fries; I can't help it!) and I have learned to cook healthy meals at home. I am not a vegetarian but I have reduced the amount of meat I eat, especially processed deli meats. So far my efforts have made a difference; I dropped my cholesterol level 11 points over the past five months. There is still room for improvement but for now I am confident in the life changes I've made.
Do you know your cholesterol levels? What have you done to lower your cholesterol score?
November 10th, 2008
11:59 AM ET
by Miriam Falco
A new study presented at a major heart conference over the weekend suggests that many of us who have good cholesterol numbers could help prevent heart disease by taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. Currently these drugs, known as statins, are prescribed only for people with existing heart problems and/or high bad cholesterol.
Could I be one of those candidates? Maybe I am, I don’t know. My cholesterol level is well below 200, which is what folks should aim for. But It’s been a couple of years since I last had my cholesterol checked, and I’m not sure how good my LDL, or “bad” cholesterol level is.
More important, people who participated in this study may have had optimal ‘bad” cholesterol levels, but they had high levels of “high-sensitivity C-reactive protein” or hsCRP, an indicator of inflammation in the body, which can contribute to the clogging of arteries. You may have had heard about CRP, but I for one have never had it tested.
Now, after folks read about this new research, they may be asking their doctors if they should get the test.
The men who particpated in this trial were 50 and older; the women were over age 60.
But as Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute, points out, adults at any age who are at "intermediate risk" for heart disease probably will want to talk to their doctor about having a 'high-sensitivity C-reactive protein or 'hsCRP" test.
How do you know if you are at intermediate risk? Nabel suggests one way to determine your risk for heart disease is by checking the so-called "Framingham score," which estimates the risk of developing coronary heart disease within 10 years based on risk factors including age, gender, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and if you smoke.
By using a simple risk calculator, which can be found here, anyone can calculate his or her risk for heart attack and coronary death.
If your score suggests you have a 10-20 percent risk of having a heart attack within the next 10 years, you are at “intermediate” risk.
Dr. Paul Ridker, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts who is the lead researcher of this big study says there are two types of CRP tests – but only one tests for the high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. So patients who want to know if they should be taking statins even though they have good cholesterol levels, need to ask for an “hsCRP” blood test. The regular CRP test isn't sensitive enough to detect the risky inflammation in people with normal to good cholesterol levels.
Do you think you might get your hsCRP tested?
Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.
July 7th, 2008
05:09 PM ET
By Miriam Falco
When my sister was about 15, she went on a diet that called for eating a lot of eggs. I distinctly remember her coming home from the doctor and telling me she had the cholesterol level of a 50-year-old and had been told to eat a more balanced diet.
Things have changed since then. When I was in school (back in the Dark Ages), there were maybe a couple of fat kids in my class. Chubby kids are much more the norm nowadays. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 17 percent of our nation’s children are either overweight or obese.
Seeing children with adult health problems is much more likely than in it was 20 years ago. Today, new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics seek to bring “a new urgency given the current epidemic of childhood obesity” because children are now at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease – conditions adults used to get more regularly in their 50s.
This new AAP report says children 2 and older should get their cholesterol tested if they have a family history of heart disease or cholesterol problems (too much “bad” cholesterol and too little “good” cholesterol).
Children without a family history, but have other risk factors, such as being overweight or obese, have high blood pressure, are diabetic or smoke, should also be screened. For more details on the report, go here.
What caught my eye is that that the AAP is suggesting patients as young as age 8 could be given cholesterol-lowering drugs. This may seems shocking, but to be fair, the AAP is talking about children with LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels at 190 or higher or over 160 if they have a family history of heart disease. The goal is to get the bad cholesterol under 160. Adults are supposed to keep their entire cholesterol levels under 200.
Dr. Nicolas Stettler, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia helped develop these new AAP guidelines. He says studies have shown that statins are safe for children. He also says, although the number of children genetically predisposed to having high cholesterol is still relatively small, it’s not rare. Stettler points out that not every child with the genetic makeup that leads to high cholesterol is obese. But if cholesterol screening shows a child has high levels of cholesterol and six months of lifestyle and diet changes can bring those numbers down, adding a statin is recommended. “It’s not a simple decision and a lifetime commitment.”
Dr. Jackie Gotlieb, a spokesperson for “Kids Health First” – an alliance of 183 primary care pediatricians in 34 independent pediatric in Metro Atlanta called the new guidelines “very reasonable recommendations.”
“These are recommendation pediatricians can live with. Although side effects such as elevated liver enzymes and muscle problems can happen in children as well as adults, this is also something doctors can easily keep an eye on.”
Has your child been screened for high cholesterol? How would you feel if your child needs to take a cholesterol-lowering drug?
Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.
About this blog
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.