Medical Research

published : 2023-11-28

When measuring heart attack risk, one important red flag is often overlooked, doctors say

About 1 in 5 people have elevated levels of a major genetic risk factor: 'We call it a triple threat'

A close-up photo of a doctor holding a vial of blood, highlighting the importance of genetic risk factors. (Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)

Heart disease kills more people in the U.S. than any other cause of death — yet many Americans aren’t aware of one major genetic risk factor.

Lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), is a protein that can greatly increase the chances of a heart attack when it’s present in high levels in the blood.

Dr. Seth Baum, a cardiologist and chief scientific officer at Flourish Research in Boca Raton, Florida, reveals the importance of this often overlooked red flag.

Along with low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), Lp(a) carries cholesterol through the blood.

The higher your levels of Lp(a), the more likely that cholesterol will build up in your blood vessels, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Brett Sealove, M.D., chief of cardiology at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, also emphasizes that Lp(a) is an indicator of a serious threat.

These ‘bad cholesterols’ result in plaque build-up in the arteries and reduced blood flow to vital organs, including the brain, heart, kidneys, and legs.

An image of a person running on a treadmill, symbolizing the importance of exercise in reducing cardiovascular risk factors. (Taken with Nikon D850)

Approximately 20% of the population is at risk because of Lp(a).

Black and South Asian Americans are at particularly high risk.

Despite that high prevalence, only a negligible share of Americans know their Lp(a) levels.

Dr. Bradley Serwer, a cardiologist and chief medical officer at VitalSolution, points out the cost and limited access to Lp(a) testing as a problem.

Lp(A) cannot be controlled by lifestyle factors and there is currently no therapeutic available to reduce it.

However, knowing your Lp(a) levels can still help in reducing other cardiovascular risk factors.

While LDL is influenced by diet and exercise, Lp(A) is not.

A young woman getting her blood pressure checked by a nurse, emphasizing the significance of regular health screenings. (Taken with Sony Alpha A7 III)

In Europe and Canada, universal screening for Lp(a) levels is already recommended, but in the U.S., it is still reserved for higher-risk patients.

Dr. Baum recommends testing Lp(a) levels for everyone as it can lead to a greater awareness and reduction of other cardiovascular risks.

The levels tend to be stable throughout a patient’s lifetime, but certain health changes like menopause, low thyroid, or kidney disease can affect them.

Dr. Sealove suggests screening Lp(a) levels alongside other laboratory parameters for those with a family history of heart disease.

Researchers are striving to better understand Lp(a) and its implications for diagnosis, risk assessment, and potential therapeutics.

Until treatments become available, focus on optimizing traditional risk factors and educating oneself on the impact of Lp(a) on cardiovascular health.