November 14, 2001
Cholesterol Particle Size and Number Can Predict Heart
Attack, Says University of Pittsburgh Researcher at AHA Meeting
- The size and number of lipoproteins in the body can predict an
individual's risk of heart attack, particularly in women, reported a
University of Pittsburgh researcher at this week's American Heart
Association (AHA) meeting.
"The higher the number of small LDL particles, the greater the woman's
chances of a heart attack," said Lewis Kuller, M.D., professor and chair,
department of epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of
Public Health. "We found that heart attack risk was as much as 2.45 times
more likely for women who had the largest number of small LDL particles
compared to women who had the lowest number of small LDL particles."
These findings are strikingly important, as heart disease is the number- one
killer of women in the United States, and almost 60 percent of the people
who die of a heart attack die suddenly outside of a hospital.
By assessing this new marker, researchers believe that physicians may be in
a much better position to initiate therapy to reduce the risk of heart
attack or prevent atherosclerosis before it becomes full-blown disease. Dr.
Kuller points out that lipoprotein size and distribution can be improved not
only by drug therapy, but by diet and exercise as well for many individuals.
Dr. Kuller presented results of a study that evaluated lipoprotein size and
number from blood samples taken from 1,849 participants in the
Cardiovascular Health Study. The project evaluated stored blood samples from
patients who were followed for five to six years. Participants were aged 65
and older, with one group representing the controls, a second group that
ultimately experienced heart attack and a third group free of subclinical or
clinical cardiovascular disease.
Results showed that women who had experienced a heart attack had large
numbers of small LDL (low-density lipoprotein) particles. The association
was stronger in women than in men.
Small LDL particles are more likely than large particles to cause the
buildup of plaque along arterial walls. LDL cholesterol is often referred to
as "bad" cholesterol when compared with HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or
Although lipoproteins were once difficult and costly to measure, nuclear
magnetic resonance imaging technology (MRI) now makes an analysis of
lipoprotein size and number a relatively simple task.