Friday, May 15, 2009

County cholesterol counts climb

St. Luke's: 36 percent of patients had 'elevated' measurements

Express Staff Writer

Nurse Marvin Miles draws blood from a patient at last year’s "Heart of the Matter" cholesterol screening, which is put on each year by the St. Luke’s Center for Community Health. This year, 36 percent of participants in the program had elevated levels of cholesterol. Photo by Mountain Express

The Wood River Valley is rightfully known for its active, health-conscious residents.

So, it may come as a bit of a surprise that a significant number of valley residents suffer from what can be a dangerous medical condition if left untested and untreated: high cholesterol.

In April, the Hailey-based St. Luke's Center for Community Health offered its annual "Heart of the Matter" blood screening program in Hailey and Ketchum. Well, the results are in, and they may come as a shock.

Of the 1,019 patients tested, 36 percent, or 367 community members, had elevated cholesterol levels, St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center reported this week.

Although the results are concerning, St. Luke's was pleased with the screening's large turnout among women, since high cholesterol is often not recognized as a women's health issue. Nearly 50 percent of the patients tested were women, said Sharon Kensinger, vice president of nursing and patient care services at St. Luke's.

"We were really pleased to see that," Kensinger said.

St. Luke's "Heart of the Matter" blood screening program is an annual event offered as a community service. This year, participants only had to pay a $10 fee to help pay for laboratory costs.

Participants were required to fast for at least eight hours prior to the test, which screened for levels of blood cholesterol, glucose and prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which measures the risk of prostate cancer.

The testing is meant to advise those with elevated cholesterol levels on their risks for heart disease and inform them on ways to lower those levels.

"A cholesterol level above 200 is considered an elevated result and should be discussed with your physician," Kensinger said. "When it comes to heart disease, prevention is the key."

She said that with regular cholesterol screenings and monitoring, people can determine if they need to make lifestyle changes. With the help of a physician, people can incorporate heart-healthy living into their existing lifestyles, and in doing so avoid, reduce or delay the onset of heart disease.

St. Luke's offers classes that focus on heart health, diabetes prevention and understanding cholesterol and weight management. These programs aim to improve the health of all residents in the region.

For a certain segment of the population with elevated cholesterol levels, whether due to family history and other genetic predisposition or because of various other health reasons, no amount of lifestyle change can reduce their cholesterol levels to an acceptable number, Kensinger said. For these people, their bodies produce more cholesterol than they can effectively regulate.

"There are some factors that are completely out of your control," she said.

While these people can and should continue to make heart-healthy decisions, physicians often place them on cholesterol-lowering medications, which have shown excellent results in many patients.

"There are a lot of drugs that physicians can prescribe if changing lifestyle doesn't help," Kensinger said.

Every adult should become actively engaged in his or her own health, and that includes making sure to get an annual cholesterol screening, Kensinger said. Even the most active valley resident can be at risk for high cholesterol, she said.

"Don't assume that you're normal. I think we can make assumptions about the health of our community that are in error."

For more information about health classes offered by St. Luke's, call the Center for Community Health at 727-8733.

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