Routine cholesterol tests have long been the gold standard for detecting heart disease risk among women and men. The test is an excellent indicator of arterial blockages, but it cannot alert your physician to another key heart disease and stroke risk factor: inflammation-related arterial damage.
Research reports that a simple, painless test can measure lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2 or an Lp-PLA2 test. Discovered several years ago, the Lp-PLA2 test was just recently shown to be an exceptionally effective method of uncovering heart disease risk, especially in black women.
Unlike basic cholesterol tests, which assess the amount of fatty deposits on your arterial wall and measure levels of good and bad cholesterol, Lp-PLA2 evaluates the damage inside the arterial wall. Some studies suggest that an elevated Lp-PLA2 (greater than 235) can indicate almost double the normal risk of stroke.
By giving your physician a way to measure the impact inflammation has had on your arteries, the Lp-PLA2 provides a tool that can lead to more effective prevention and treatment.
“A cardiac test that helps better predict future coronary heart disease risk in women, and especially black women, may help health-care professionals identify these patients before they experience a serious event, like a heart attack,” Alberto Gutierrez, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement.
A Test Especially Sensitive to Black Women
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) analysis of recent research also found that in studies showing that people with Lp-PLA2 levels above 225 were 7 percent more likely to develop heart disease over the next five years, compared to 3 percent for people with lower levels.
When the data were specifically looked at to see how black women faired with high Lp-PLA2 levels, the researchers found that we had a much higher heart disease risk if our readings were high (above 235).
This suggests that the test does an excellent job of alerting black women to their heart disease risk, especially since it’s effective in young women. More than 46 percent of African-American women over age 20 have some form of heart disease. The test is also a great indicator of damage for post-menopausal women.
Learning Your Lp-PLA2 Score
In December 2014, the FDA approved a new Lp-LPA2 screening test, meaning it should be covered by your medical insurance carrier, especially if you are in a high-risk category (having diabetes or hypertension). Ask your doctor to order it for you during your next check-up.
LP-PLA2 test results are different from basic cholesterol tests, but the numbers are reported in a same way.
Low risk: <200 ng/mL
Borderline risk: 200-235 ng/mL
High risk: >235 ng/mL.
The Cleveland Clinic’s guide to interpreting the numbers will help you better understand your risk.
Diet Trumps Diabetes
A new study reports that black women might be able to reduce their risk of diabetes by as much as 32 percent by eating a healthy (low-fat, high-fiber, moderate calorie) diet. The study followed thousands of women for up to 28 years and found diabetes risk increased with every serving of sugar-sweetened beverages or red and processed meat.