A new Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation study found most major heart attacks happen to people with normal cholesterol levels.
Researchers studied more than 1,000 heart attack patients, analyzing their cholesterol, other risk factors, and medical history. Half of them had not seen a doctor in at least two years prior to suffering a heart attack.
• In depth: Health coverage from MPR News
Monitoring cholesterol levels should be just one of many risk factors health care providers consider in assessing the risk of heart disease, said Heart Institute cardiologist Michael Miedema.
"It's not just your cholesterol that causes heart attacks but your blood pressure and your blood sugar and if you smoke and diabetes and what you eat and how active you are and on and on and on," he said.
Miedema said the study results reinforce the value of a relatively new approach to screening for heart disease.
"When you go to your doctor for your annual physical, your first question should not be what's your cholesterol level, it's what's my risk for a heart attack," Miedema said. "You have to look at the total picture. So, if you're a 65-year -old male, diabetic with high blood pressure with pristine cholesterol levels, you're not low-risk at all. You're quite high-risk."
The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.