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Lipoprotein(a): Surprising Poll Results

Posted Aug 24 2008 3:44pm

No doubt, our little informal poll asking readers whether they have lipoprotein(a), is skewed towards people inclined to respond because they have this genetic trait.

Nonetheless, the response is telling. Of 82 respondents:

--40 (48%) said they did have Lp(a)

--16 (19%) said that they did not have Lp(a)

--26 (31%) said that they did not know whether or not they had Lp(a)

Though admittedly an informal analysis, I'd draw several conclusions from this simple "experiment".

One, while the proportion of people responding that they have Lp(a) may not be accurate, it is a prevalent genetic risk factor that, according to formal studies, is present in 17% of people with coronary or vascular disease, 11% of the broader population. This number may be even higher if the newer particle number assays (measurements) are used (with results expressed in nmol/L), since an occasional person with a "normal" Lp(a) in mg/dl (weight-based) will prove to have increased Lp(a) by nmol/L (particle number-based). (The reason for this phenomenon is not clear. It may be consequent to variation in apo(a) size, with larger apo(a) varieties of Lp(a) occasionally escaping detection .) As our little poll shows, plenty of people have Lp(a).

Two, readers of this blog tend to be highly motivated, sophisticated, and knowledgeable about health and heart disease. Yet a substantial portion--31%--did not know whether they have this crucial risk factor. That shouldn't be. The unnecessary difficulty of getting this simple blood test performed has been driven home to me repeatedly when I identify this factor in someone and then suggest that their grown children and parents, each of whom have a 50% chance of having Lp(a), be tested. It's not uncommon for a 35-year old son, for instance, to say that his doctor refused, claiming it is an unproven risk marker, or to simply say that he/she doesn't know what it is.

No doubt, just knowing whether you have Lp(a) or not is not the end of the story. Reducing Lp(a) and its associated co-factors is no easy matter. With several hundred patients in my practice with Lp(a), it occupies much of my time and energy. Sometimes it leads to enormous successes , but it can also pose a real challenge .

There should no longer be any doubt that Lp(a) is associated with significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This has been demonstrated conclusively across dozens of studies. Risk from Lp(a) is over and above that posed by other risk factors; it also amplifies the risk posed by other factors, e.g., small LDL, inflammatory phenemena, homocysteine, total LDL, low HDL.

In the world of Lp(a), our two most desperate needs for the future are:

1) Better education of physicians and the public, and

2) More effective treatment options .

Thus, our reasons to form The Lipoprotein(a) Research Foundation. Steps to gain tax-exempt status are being pursued as we speak.

I can't help but wonder whether, like vitamin D, a solution is right beneath our noses. An investment in research to fund the trials to better explore both basic science as well as practical treatment options might yield an answer more readily than we think. Wouldn't that be great?

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