A blood protein called PCSK9 may help predict your risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event—regardless of traditional risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
The protein is the target of a new class of cholesterol-lowering drugs called PCSK9 inhibitors. The first two medications—alirocumab and evolocumab—were approved in 2015, after trials showed they can substantially lower LDL cholesterol in patients with stubbornly high levels.
In a study published in Circulation in 2016, researchers attempted to find out whether a person’s blood level of PCSK9 predicted the odds of cardiovascular problems later on.
The answer appears to be that it does. The study followed 4,200 older adults for 15 years; those with relatively high PCSK9 levels at the outset faced increased risks of unstable angina, heart attack, stroke, or death from coronary heart disease. The overall risk was 48 percent higher among the one-quarter of study participants with the highest PCSK9 levels, versus the one-quarter with the lowest.
Does this mean you should have your PCSK9 levels measured? Not yet. More studies are needed to show whether that’s worthwhile. If your LDL cholesterol level is still high despite statin treatment, or if you cannot tolerate statin side effects, you might be a candidate for a PCSK9 inhibitor. If you have questions, talk to your doctor.
Learn more about alternatives to statins.
Amy Norton has been a medical journalist since 1999. She was a staff writer and editor for Physician’s Weekly and Reuters Health, and has written on health and medicine for MSNBC, The Scientist, Prevention and HealthDay. When she’s not writing, she is teaching yoga.