First of all, your cholesterol levels are not the final determinant of your heart attack or heart disease risk. Other factors besides cholesterol play a role, such as inflammation which causes cholesterol to oxidize and then lead to heart concerns. That being said, you don’t just want to ignore cholesterol levels. They are a good measure to assess risk and determine if further investigation is needed to determine appropriate treatment.
Norwegian researchers reported middle-age men with high cholesterol levels to be at increased risk for a first heart attack when compared to women with high cholesterol levels.
This study, published in the September issue of Epidemiology, included more than 40,000 participants under the age of 60 years-old. They found men with high cholesterol to have three times the risk for a heart attack versus women.
The reason for this increased wasn’t identified by the researchers, but speculation that it may be connected to the protective effects of hormones, such as estrogen. That is why this study had an age limit of 60 years-old. After the age of 60, the protective benefits women may receive from hormones is eliminated as menopause begins.
It’s important for men to have regular medical checkups to ensure any increases in cholesterol be diagnosed and treated appropriately. Prevention and treatment during middle-age can go a long ways towards heart attack prevention for men. Don’t automatically think this means medication. Lifestyle changes go a long ways towards reducing cholesterol levels and reducing heart disease risk.
Just because men are at increased risk at an earlier age, does not mean women should be overlooked. Heart disease is often misdiagnosed in women because it’s assumed their risk is not as great. What’s even more confusing are the signs of a heart attack tend to differ between men and women, so women must be extra vigilant. This study just reinforces that men during middle age tend to be at a higher risk for a first time heart attack than women. Both men and women should still be proactive when it comes to their health and take steps to promote long term heart health. Remember, the "playing field" evens out after the age of 60. Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a spokesman for the American Heart Association, has been quoted as saying that over a full lifespan cardiovascular risk in women exceeds that of men.
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