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Survey Shows Women are Disappearing into a Cholesterol Gap

PCNA Warns Women to Investigate "What's Missing in CholesterALL?"

Women don't know the difference between bad cholesterol and good cholesterol, according to a Harris Interactive survey of 2,700 women, nearly a quarter of whom have cardiovascular disease, have suffered a heart attack or stroke, or have diabetes.

Eighty-one percent of respondents could not name their HDL ("good") cholesterol or LDL ("bad") cholesterol numbers; 84 percent could not name their triglyceride levels.  However, nearly all respondents agreed it is important to know one's cholesterol numbers, and most claimed to be knowledgeable about cholesterol in general.  More than half of the women surveyed (59 percent) did not know that HDL is the "good" cholesterol and that LDL is the "bad."  Surprisingly, this lack of understanding extends to those who are taking action to improve their cholesterol levels.  Eighty-two percent of the women who reported taking a prescription medicine to raise their HDL said they were taking a statin.  While statins moderately raise HDL, their primary function is to lower LDL.

The Missing Factor: HDL Cholesterol
Maintaining high levels of HDL cholesterol is crucial for women.  It is estimated that 28 million women are living with low HDL (less than 50 mg/dL), which puts them at greater risk for heart disease.  This urgency was underscored when The American Heart Association issued new guidelines in 2004 urging women to maintain an HDL level of at least 50 mg/dL, a 25 percent increase over the previous target.

"The survey findings tell us that something has been lost in the dialogue about cholesterol disorders in women.  There is a lack of knowledge and understanding that there are different types of cholesterol and different ways to address each," said Suzanne Hughes, R.N., M.S.N., and past president of the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA).  "If women don't know the difference between HDL and LDL— let alone that one needs to go up while the other goes down— they won't have the background they need for a productive discussion about heart health with their healthcare providers.  We tell our patients that 'H' is for Healthy and 'L' is for Lethal."

LDL is a primary risk factor for heart disease, but HDL and triglycerides are also very important, particularly in women.  Lowering LDL alone fails to prevent 60 to 70 percent of deaths related to coronary artery disease.  In order to maximally reduce risk for heart attack and stroke, all of the risk factors need to be treated, including HDL and triglyceride levels.  HDL acts like a cleaning service for the blood—carrying LDL particles away from the arteries and preventing blockages.

"Some risk factors for heart disease—for instance, HDL and triglyceride levels—carry more weight in women than in men," said Nieca Goldberg, M.D., Founder, Total Heart Care, Chief of Women's Cardiac Care at Lenox Hill Hospital, and best-selling author of Women are Not Small Men:  Lifesaving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Heart Disease in Women.  "By knowing ALL their cholesterol numbers and communicating with their doctors and nurses, women can better manage their HDL and triglyceride levels through diet, weight loss, smoking cessation, exercise or prescription medications. An open dialogue is the first step to fighting heart disease."

What's Missing in CholesterALL?
These survey findings identify a need for further education about ALL relevant cholesterol factors that contribute to heart disease.

"HDL and triglycerides are often lost in the mix for women.  PCNA created the 'What's Missing in CholesterALL?' campaign to urge women to become detectives in investigating all the potential clues to a healthy cholesterol profile," said Hughes.

Using police-blotter language and playful graphics, PCNA's brochures, website and toll-free number makes it interesting for women to search out the culprits of heart disease.  PCNA will launch the "What's Missing in CholesterALL?" campaign on July 19 at a national media event and will distribute the materials to physicians' offices throughout the country.  To join the detective force and receive a free brochure, call 877-HDL-GOAL (877-435-4625) or visit

About the Survey
This survey was conducted online in the United States between May 2, 2005, and May 11, 2005, among a nationwide cross section of 2,704 women (aged 50 or over).  Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, income and region were weighted where necessary to align with population proportions.  Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

About PCNA
The Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association is committed to the prevention and optimal management of cardiovascular disease.  PCNA seeks to impact health disparities through educational programs and products.  The PCNA mission emphasizes the important role of nurses as leaders in cardiovascular risk reduction and disease management.

The "What's Missing in CholesterALL?" campaign is an education program of the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, made possible with an educational grant from Kos Pharmaceuticals.


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