Women failing to keep up with cholesterol treatment, survey finds


More than 50% of men and women in the EU have too much of the bad cholesterol. [Shutterstock]

Fewer than 40% of women suffering from bad cholesterol are able to follow the medicines regiment needed to control their disease, according to a US survey.

The poll was conducted by Women Heart, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, a non-profit organisation. This is the first national survey of this kind in the United States.

It showed that the mean medication adherence rate for the 795 women who took part in the survey was only 62%.

The survey was targeted at female patients with low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and familial hypercholesterolemia, or FH, a genetic disorder characterised by high cholesterol levels.

Meanwhile, only 31% reported eating five or more fruits and vegetables per day, which is the recommended daily intake in the United States, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

The women cited poor doctor-patient communication, medication cost, and resistance from insurance companies to approve preferred medications and specialist visits as the main reasons for failing to follow the treatment.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, as well as in the EU, for women, and cholesterol is a modifiable risk factor, which, when managed, can help reduce the risk of developing a heart attack.

Since FH runs in families and is hereditary, experts recommend screening those with relatives afflicted by the condition. Among FH patients who took part in the survey, less than one in five reported that their family members had been screened, which means they are likely living with undetected FH.

“The survey and focus group findings indicate a real need to reduce barriers to detection and treatment of cholesterol or FH in women, which are both major risk factors for heart disease,” said Mary E. McGowan, the CEO of Women Heart. McGowan stressed the need to step up early diagnosis and treatment of heart disease risk factors in order to improve women’s heart health.

Survey results also indicated that less than 2% of participants were enrolled in clinical research trials though more than a third – around 40% – said they were interested in participating or learning more about clinical trials.

Based on survey results, medical and policy experts recommended raising public awareness about the role of nutrition and physical activity to reduce high levels of cholesterol. They also advocated addressing the barriers to medication adherence and improving access to treatment for patients.

Bad cholesterol can have many causes and is frequently associated with ageing and unhealthy lifestyles – such as lack of exercise, smoking, drinking and a diet overly rich in fat.

But a large proportion of people also inherit the condition at birth from their parents, in which case the disease is referred to as familial hypercholesterolemia (FH).

54% of Europeans have high levels of bad cholesterol, the highest prevalence in the world.


Europeans suffer from the highest bad cholesterol in the world, with a prevalence of 54% for both sexes, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

According to a 2011 report by the Cardiovascular Resource Group, 133.3 million people in the five biggest EU countries (Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK) suffer from too much bad cholesterol, comparable to the overall number in the United States (135.1 million).

Statistics in the report show that the numbers have grown steadily over the past years.

>> Read our LinksDossier: Cholesterol: The overlooked chronic disease


  • 22-25 March: European Atherosclerosis Society conference in Glasgow.

Further Reading