Cholesterol test called unreliable as heart gauge

January 07, 1994|By Newsday

Physicians in London are saying that cholesterol tests are unreliable indicators of who is at risk for heart disease.

Based on a 20-year study of nearly 22,000 London men, doctors at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine are to conclude in today's issue of the medical journal Lancet that repeated, carefully executed cholesterol tests are only mildy predictive of heart disease problems because most people in Western society have cholesterol levels that are too high. They said this is true even when the level is below the suggested limit.

Thus, the researchers said, the tests generally shouldn't be used by doctors in advising lowered cholesterol consumption. Instead, the doctors said, everyone should be told to reduce cholesterol consumption, just as people are advised to stop smoking.

"The efficiency of those cholesterol tests as screening tests is too poor to justify their use for health decisions, even when repeated over a period of years," the study's director, Dr. Nicholas Wald, said.

Dr. Meir Stampfer, who heads large studies of heart disease risk through the Harvard School of Public Health, said that while cholesterol testing is not perfect, that doesn't mean it is useless.

He said cholesterol tests can accurately identify people with high familial risk of heart disease, and help motivate individuals to lose weight, exercise, and eat less fat.

Dr. Wald's study found that only 12 percent of the heart attack victims had high total cholesterol levels. High was defined as being in the top five percent in the 22,000-man pool.

"The problem is that everybody in Western societies eats too much cholesterol," Dr. Wald said.

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