In recent health advisories, experts are sounding the alarm about an under-the-radar cholesterol risk that could affect the health of up to 65 million Americans. Known as the “silent killer,” lipoprotein(a) or Lp(a) is emerging as a significant factor linked to the risk of deadly strokes and heart attacks. While we’re well-versed in the risks of high cholesterol, particularly the LDL type, the unique dangers associated with Lp(a) are coming into sharper focus.
Lp(a) distinguishes itself due to its composition of sticky proteins, allowing it to form clumps rapidly and disrupt the smooth flow of blood. Unlike regular LDL cholesterol, Lp(a) levels are mainly dictated by our genetics, and as of now, there are no approved treatments specifically designed to address it. Studies indicate that individuals with elevated Lp(a) face a two- to three-fold higher risk of heart attacks and nearly double the risk of strokes compared to those with normal levels. Interestingly, even individuals with low LDL cholesterol levels might still have high Lp(a), making conventional cholesterol tests inadequate for a thorough health assessment.
Recognizing the urgency of the situation, a growing number of experts are advocating for more advanced cholesterol testing protocols capable of detecting high levels of Lp(a). Dr. Sahil Parikh from Columbia University stresses the importance of proactive testing, even in the absence of immediate treatment options, as breakthrough treatments are on the horizon, offering hope to patients.
Approximately 65 million Americans, roughly one in five, are estimated to have elevated Lp(a) levels. Despite testing being available at specialized centers, the associated costs often lead many healthcare providers to skip its inclusion in routine screenings. Consequently, millions of individuals remain unaware of the potentially life-threatening risks associated with high Lp(a).
While no specific treatments for elevated Lp(a) are currently available, the pharmaceutical landscape is abuzz with promising developments. Several drug candidates, including lepodisiran, olpasiran, and pelacarsen, have shown encouraging results in trials by significantly reducing Lp(a) levels. Patients like Lori Welsh, who uncovered her family’s history of high Lp(a), find value in this knowledge for proactive risk management. Empowering individuals with this information can prompt more assertive management of other risk factors, such as dietary and lifestyle changes.
Lp(a) is composed of a unique combination of sticky proteins and fat particles, contributing to the buildup of LDL cholesterol in the blood vessels. This accumulation can lead to plaque formation, potentially causing ruptures that trigger blood clots, resulting in severe heart attacks or strokes.
In conclusion, raising awareness about Lp(a) and its genetic impact on cardiovascular risk is crucial for public health. While targeted treatments are in development, taking proactive measures to manage other risk factors remains essential. This proactive approach not only provides hope for those at risk but also contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of silent killer cholesterol in the broader healthcare landscape.