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Start Checking Cholesterol Early

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

According to the American Heart Association,
almost half the U.S. population has high, or borderline high,
cholesterol levels. Along with family history, smoking and high
blood pressure, elevated cholesterol is one of the leading risk
factors for heart disease, stroke and other dangerous medical
complications.

Even more alarming is that we're seeing a growing number of
young children with elevated cholesterol levels, often
accompanied by obesity and early-onset diabetes. Medical
guidelines typically recommend that cholesterol screening begin
at age 18, with screenings at five-year intervals, but many
physicians, including cardiologist Michael Blazing, M.D., of
Duke University Medical Center, say that's probably too
late.

"The problem we have right now," says Blazing, who is
assistant professor of medicine and director of Duke's Cardiac
Outpatient Clinic, "is that, when you're born, typically your
cholesterol level should be in the 60s. By the time we get to
18, it's in the 140s, on average in the United States. I'm
talking about the 'bad' cholesterol, LDL cholesterol,
here."

Blazing says that diet and lifestyle changes, coupled with
medication when appropriate, can provide positive health
benefits at any age.

"Modifying cholesterol in people who have never manifested
coronary artery disease or heart attacks, and individuals who
have only elevated cholesterol levels as a risk factor, is
extremely effective in preventing heart attack and strokes and
even making people live longer," he says.

Blazing adds that, in the face of the growing national
crisis of childhood obesity, diabetes and related health
issues, it would be a good idea to begin regular cholesterol
screening as early as possible, in order to help prevent
dangerous, and costly, medical problems later in life. And he
says it's never too early to start.

"I say you start from birth, but you start from birth by
having a good, healthy lifestyle -- watching your weight,
watching how much you eat and then what you eat, with the 'how
much' being more important to me than the 'what.'"

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