Young adults with high cholesterol face extreme health risk, study warns

Brittany A. Roston - Sep 25, 2020, 2:00pm CDT
Young adults with high cholesterol face extreme health risk, study warns

Having high levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol during one’s young adult years is an extreme health risk, according to a new study, paving the way for irreversible heart issues and heightened stroke and heart attack risk by middle age. The study warns that ‘aggressive’ steps are necessary to get LDL cholesterol levels under control early in life and that it may be too late to avoid the heightened risk by one’s late thirties. The risk was found to remain elevated even when cholesterol was corrected.

Heart disease and stroke remain the most deadly conditions around the world, underscoring the need to address risk factors and other issues that pave the way for cardiac health issues. Lifestyle and diet both play major roles in the development of heart disease, including low activity levels, poor diet, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption. High LDL cholesterol and high blood pressure are two issues that tend to manifest earlier in life before heart disease develops.

According to the new study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, high levels of bad cholesterol in young adults can lead to an irreversible increase in the risk of having a stroke, heart attack, or other heart health-related issues in middle age. Michael Domanski, MD, the study’s leader, explained:

We found having an elevated LDL cholesterol level at a young age raises the risk of developing heart disease, and the elevated risk persists even in those who were able to later lower their LDL cholesterol levels … Damage to the arteries done early in life may be irreversible and appears to be cumulative. For this reason, doctors may want to consider prescribing lifestyle changes and also medications to lower high LDL cholesterol levels in young adults in order to prevent problems further down the road.

The findings are based on data from 5,000 people who were ages 18 to 30 at the start of the study. These participants were tracked for 35 years in order to determine what kind of impact lifestyle, among other things, can have on a person’s heart disease risk as they age. The findings are startling — that someone who had high cholesterol as a teenager, for example, may be at greater risk of a heart attack at age 40 even if their cholesterol levels are normal when compared to someone who never experienced high cholesterol.

The findings ultimately suggest that it is important to aggressively intervene in high cholesterol issues early in life to protect one’s long-term health.

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