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In a study published in the July 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (vol. 353, pp. 46-57), researchers have found that elevated levels of Lp(a) in the blood may be linked to an increased risk of  heart disease.

Lp(a) is a natural component of blood which appears to be helpful when at “modest” levels. When those levels rise, however, there appears to be an accompanying increase in the risk of heart disease.

The study involved 500 people (ages 18 to 75) of which 97 % were white. They were being evaluated for heart disease at the Mayo Clinic where they underwent a test known as a coronary angiography. The test measures blood flow in the arteries of the heart. Diminished blood flow in these vessels due to atherosclerosis can lead to chest pain and heart attacks.

When results of the angiograms were compared to Lp(a) levels there was a correlation. The Lp(a) levels were particularly good at predicting blockages in the coronary arteries of people under 60 wit elevated cholesterol levels.

Subjects with the highest Lp(a) and cholesterol levels were 14 times as likely to have obstructed coronary arteries as subjects with the lowest levels of Lp(a) and cholesterol.

Other factors are also useful in predicting heart disease. These include age, sex, smoking, high blood pressure, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

While additional studies are needed to confirm the results of this study, this is the first time Lp(a) has been shown to predict heart disease. Thus, doctors should consider measuring Lp(a) in patients with other coronary risk factors such as a family history of heart disease or heart problems from an early age.   

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