Thursday, January 17, 2008

Medical Wisdom

Jill over at Brilliant at Breakfast in her post today calls our attention to a New York Times article about cholesterol which you can read here.

Now, I generally think that people talking about their health is about as exciting as watching paint dry. I know whereof I speak, because I have actually watched paint dry, but that is a story for another day. But this whole cholesterol thing and the timing of it, vis a’ vis my health status, is just too weird not to share with you.

I have enjoyed very low cholesterol all of my life, usually in the 120 range and sometimes below 100, and very good “ratios” of LDL to HDL. Doctors have always been borderline ecstatic with my blood tests and I’ve never really had to work at keeping those levels stable. I do maintain a reasonably healthy diet, but I don’t really work at it; I seem to just have good genetics.

I have had emphysema for more than 20 years to a rather severe degree, but I learned to breathe efficiently with the remaining portion of my lungs and the condition has had no real effect on me. I was, for instance, still able to do cross-country skiing at 10,000 feet altitude when I was 60 years old.

In 2003 my health crashed. I really don’t know any other way to put it, as pretty much everything went to hell. I had seven small strokes, my heart developed a couple of arrhythmia’s, I had some sort of systemic inflammation problem and in 2004 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. My cholesterol was still in the low 100’s.

One of the tests suggested a blocked cardiac artery, so I went in for an angiogram and the result was that I had arteries that, according to the cardiologist, the average forty-year-old would be happy to trade me for. Lovely clear arteries with not a trace of plaque.

One friend suggested I should turn myself inside out so my arteries would show if they were that lovely.

So I had a procedure to stabilize my heart and I’m on medications for all the other things, and I’m thriving. Modern medicine is awesome.

One small problem has developed, my cholesterol is going up. It’s above the magic number of 200, it’s now up to a whopping 206 and now the doctor wants to put me on a medication to reduce it.

Okay, go read the New York Times article. I’m going to cut it out and take it with me next time I go to the doctor.

Even if current “medical wisdom” is valid it doesn’t suggest that cholesterol itself is the problem. The problem is that cholesterol leads to a buildup of plaque in the arteries and that is not something that happens overnight. I am 65 years old. I have severe emphysema, heart disease and Parkinson’s. I’m optimistic, but really – how much longer am I going to live? How much plaque is going to build up in these arteries which are currently plaque-free?

Jill even suggests that cholesterol might be the result of a problem rather than the cause of one. I don’t think that is an outlandish suggestion at all. Is my rising cholesterol my body’s response to the assault?


  1. Anonymous9:43 AM

    interesting article...

    Doctors generally believe that the amount by which cholesterol is lowered, not the method of lowering it, is what matters.

    ... if the method leads to kidney failure for example, is the overall result a good one? I think not. All medicines have effects, both good and bad. We want the good ones and have to accept the bad ones, provided they are not greater than the good ones. There really is no such thing as "side effects".

    and by the way, your oldest sister has similar genes and has high cholesterol (as do I). Of course, I don't share as many genes as you do (thanks, Dad - he has it too). How's your BP, since you never mentioned that one?

  2. bp is still, typically, 110/60

  3. As the above mentioned "older ('er' instead of 'est' because there are only two of us) sister" I will note that I have had high cholesterol for years, sometimes over 300, and even with medication always over 200. BTW, I can't take statins, because I have one of the "side effects" which is unacceptable (muscle pain and deterioration). However, tests (not as drastic as angiogram, but reliable) indicate that my arteries are pretty clear of plaque. AND, another test (C-reactive protein) puts me in the average range of risk. There are some doctors who think it is a more accurate predictor of heart problems than cholesterol.
    So go, jayhawk - I wouldn't worry about the cholesterol either, if I were you. I don't worry much about it for myself.
    Thanks for the references to the articles!!!