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Dec 12, 2011

Lipoprotein-a and Cardiovascular Risk Among African Americans

African Americans are more likely to have higher levels of this cholesterol, increasing their risk for heart disease.

Lipoprotein-a is a type of cholesterol that in high levels is associated with increased risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. However, having been discovered within the last 50 years, there is much that researchers continue to learn about this protein. While initial studies consistently showed that lipoprotein-a was only associated with cardiovascular risk among Caucasians, a recent study debunked this assumption, showing that lipoprotein-a is associated just as strongly with cardiovascular risk among African-Americans as Caucasians.

These findings were part of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC) – a large national study sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). In this particular study focused on liporotein-a, researchers followed nearly 3,500 African-Americans and over 9,800 Caucasian adults over a total of 20 years, tracking their health and any cardiac events. After analysis, they found that not only were high lipoprotein-a levels associated with increased risk for cardiovascular events among African-Americans, this increased risk was just as strong in African-Americans as Caucasians.

Although more research is needed to better understand the relationship between lipoprotein-a and cardiovascular risk, implications of this study are huge. Because African-Americans tend to have both higher lipoprotein-a levels and higher risk for cardiovascular events in comparison with Caucasians, this type of cholesterol could be yet another key to minimizing cardiovascular risk among high-risk populations. And as more is learned about lipoprotein-a, this marker may be deemed as an independent risk factor for heart disease and used more routinely to identify those at greatest cardiovascular risk.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How are liprotein-a levels tested?

  • Lipoprotein-a can be measured with a simple blood test, similar to blood tests for other types of cholesterol.
  • What factors impact lipoprotein-a levels?

  • Research has shown that lipoprotein-a is genetic, and some are predisposed to have very high levels while others have very little. Although no medications have been proven to lower lipoprotein-a, lifestyle changes and medications, such as statins, can still help lower cardiovascular risk in high risk patients.

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