The Nation's Health + [LDL cholesterol]

LDL cholesterol: When is LDL cholesterol NOT LDL cholesterol?

Darlene had a high LDL cholesterol, at times as high as 200 mg/dl. Her primary care doctor first tried Mevacor, then Pravachol, then Zocor, then Lipitor. Every statin drug failed to reduce Darlene's LDL below 160 mg/dl, even when maximum doses were used. The higher doses also resulted in nearly intolerable muscle aches and weakness.

When we sent Darlene's blood sample off for lipoprotein analysis, a surprise came back: she had a high lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a). This explained a lot.

LDL cholesterol is not always just LDL cholesterol. One of the particles that can masquerade as LDL is Lp(a). Darlene's story is typical of many people who've had high cholesterol levels poorly responsive to the statin drugs. That's because their LDL conceals Lp(a), which does not respond to these agents. LDL cholesterol does drop some because there's also some real LDL mixed in.

A poor response to statin agents or to nutritional strategies to reduce LDL is a tip-off that Lp(a) may be hidden. The answer: just measure Lp(a)! If you and your doctor don't measure it, you won't know whether or not you have it. Rather than a statin drug, we put Darlen on niacin. Not only did her Lp(a) drop, but her LDL also plummeted.