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High cholesterol in 30s raises heart disease risk

39% higher risk of heart disease per decade of high cholesterol

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

People with only mildly high cholesterol in their 30s are significantly raising their risk of heart disease later in life, concludes a study* published online today in the journal Circulation.

US researchers found that every decade a person has elevated cholesterol between the ages of 35 and 55 could increase their future risk of heart disease by 39%.

Researchers led by Dr Ann Marie Navar-Boggan, cardiology fellow at the Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina, studied data from the Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 and which is one of the largest ongoing research projects focused on heart health.

The study evaluated 1,478 adults who were free of heart disease at the age of 55 years, and calculated the length of time each participant had experienced high cholesterol by that age. These adults were then followed for up to 20 years to see how duration of exposure to high cholesterol affected their risk of heart disease.

When the participants were 55 years old, 389 had experienced one to 10 years of elevated cholesterol, 577 had 11 to 20 years of high cholesterol and 512 participants did not have high cholesterol.

Analysis of the results showed there was a dose-response relationship between duration of cholesterol exposure by age 55 and future risk of heart disease.

People with 11 to 20 years of high cholesterol had a 16.5% overall risk of heart disease, while those with one to 10 years of cholesterol exposure had 8.1% risk.

Those who did not have high cholesterol at the start of the study only had a 4.4% risk for heart disease.

Collectively, each decade of high cholesterol raised the risk of heart disease by 39%, suggesting, said the authors, that there was a cumulative effect of even mild or moderate elevations in cholesterol in higher risk to heart health.

Dr Navar-Boggan said: “Our findings suggest that they [adults with longstanding mild to moderately elevated cholesterol levels] may benefit from more aggressive prevention strategies earlier.”

Not every 35-year-old with mild to moderately elevated cholesterol needed to start statin therapy, she added, but she recommended that young adults with elevated cholesterol should be aware of their increased future risk of heart disease.

“It’s never too soon for young adults to talk with their doctors about heart health, which should include how to manage cholesterol levels through diet and exercise, and, in certain cases, medication,” she said.

“The plaques in arteries that break off and cause heart attacks later in life take years to develop. What is happening in your blood vessels, in particular your cholesterol levels, during your 30’s and 40’s affects your heart health in your 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.”

Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We already know that too much cholesterol in your blood is a risk factor for having a heart attack or stroke.

“This study suggests that even slightly high cholesterol levels in otherwise healthy adults between the ages of 35 and 55 can have a long-term impact on heart health. It’s never too early to start thinking about your heart health.”

* Ann Marie Navar-Boggan, et al. Hyperlipidemia in Early Adulthood Increases Long-Term Risk of Coronary Heart Disease. CIRCULATIONAHA.114.012477 Published online before print January 26, 2015, doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.012477

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