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Most Americans Still Unclear About Cholesterol

DALLAS, November 10, 2005 -- New survey data show that 97 percent of Americans with high cholesterol report awareness of the update to the national cholesterol guidelines published last year, but only 64 percent of these adults know that LDL is the "bad" cholesterol and more than a third cite a number significantly higher than the guidelines' recommendation for healthy cholesterol levels.

"Given the significant risk that high cholesterol frequently plays in developing heart disease, these disparities in awareness and knowledge highlight a critical need for continued patient education," said Tim Elsner, executive director of Mended Hearts, a nationwide heart patient support organization affiliated with the American Heart Association (AHA). The new data is from a Harris Interactive survey, funded by Mended Hearts with a grant from Merck/Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals.

Knowledge of Cholesterol Numbers and Guidelines

According to the AHA, more than 106 million Americans have cholesterol levels considered borderline high or higher. The updated guidelines recommend an LDL level of 130 to 160 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) or less for individuals with no additional risk factors for heart attack or stroke like diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease. For those individuals at high risk, the recommended LDL goal is 100 milligrams or less per mg/dl, with an optional goal of 70 mg/dl or less if a person is considered at very high risk. Yet of the 67 percent of those surveyed who said they had spoken with their doctor about what their LDL goal should be more than half recalled that they had a target of 150 to 200 mg/dl.

"There is obvious confusion here. How can we best prevent heart attacks and strokes when nearly half of American adults suffer from high levels of LDL yet so few actually understand what a healthy level should be? Many of these people have added risk factors for heart attack and stroke, and for them, there are optional lower LDL goals," Elsner said. "Clearly, there are implications here for the heart patient community and we need to ensure that we are effectively communicating to patients what the updated guidelines actually mean for them."

The Sources of Cholesterol

In addition to confusion about goals, the survey also revealed misunderstanding about where cholesterol comes from. While 54 percent of respondents correctly identified food and family history as the two main sources of cholesterol, 63 percent of these individuals incorrectly cited food as contributing the most to their cholesterol level.

"Food can play an important role in developing high cholesterol but so too can heredity or family health history," said David Cohen, M.D., director of hepatology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School. "It is important that patients with high cholesterol not make the mistake of thinking about one source of high cholesterol at the expense of the other. When diet and exercise fail to lower cholesterol to treatment goals, patients should talk with physicians about the appropriate treatment options available to them."

About the Survey

Mended Hearts, with a grant from Merck/Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals, sponsored the survey conducted among 1,729 adults who are among the more than one million members of the Harris Interactive Chronic Illness panel (CIP). The survey participants all had high cholesterol, with 86 percent reporting they had LDL levels greater than 160 at time of their initial diagnosis. The respondents included 633 currently taking cholesterol-lowering medication, 537 who had previously done so and 559 who had never taken cholesterol-lowering medication. All of the participants were older than 18 years, with 59 percent older than age 54, and 48 percent were women.

About Mended Hearts

Mended Hearts, a national nonprofit organization affiliated with the American Heart Association, has been offering the gift of hope to heart disease patients, their families and caregivers for more than 50 years. Recognized for its role in facilitating a positive patient-care experience, Mended Hearts partners with 450 hospitals and rehabilitation clinics and offers services to heart patients through visiting programs, support group meetings and educational forums. Its mission is to "inspire hope in heart disease patients and their families."

About Merck/Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals

Merck/Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals is a joint venture between Merck & Co., Inc. and Schering-Plough Corporation formed in May 2000 to develop and market in the United States new prescription medicines in cholesterol management.

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Posted: November 2005