For most people, LDL cholesterol is known to narrow arteries, but a new study now shows that it may contribute to venous thromboembolism. Known as the “bad cholesterol,” LDL can lead to heart attack and strokes, but this new information sheds light onto a new way it can be harmful to health.
The study, presented at the American Heart Association’s Vascular Discovery Scientific Sessions, looked at proteins and genes that might influence venous thromboembolism or VTE. This is a condition that causes potentially dangerous blood clots to form in the arms or legs that can break free and travel to the lungs.
Researchers took the information collected by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Million Veteran Program and UK Biobank. They studied DNA, testing for 13 million genetic variants, and finding 26,066 cases of VTE, identifying several new factors that cause dangerous blood clots. This included a protein called plasminogen activator inhibitor 1.
They also identified LDL cholesterol as a risk factor for VTE.
One of the study’s lead authors, Dr. Scott Damrauer, spoke about the study, “We don’t usually think of cholesterol as being important in venous disease, but our work on this study provides strong evidence that it may be predisposing people to venous thrombosis.”
The study raises the question of possibly using cholesterol-lowering statins to reduce VTE risk. Past research has shown that treating cholesterol with statins can also help prevent blood clots.
Dr. Damrauer said, “This study shows how we can use genetics to try to more accurately understand who will go on to develop venous thromboembolism and who will not.”
“Because of this innovative program started by and funded by the VA, we were able to assemble the largest study of venous thromboembolism to date, with about ten times more people than previous studies,” he said.
“Large projects like this will push the power of discovery and allow us to better understand the genetics of a whole host of diseases. I think, ultimately, these projects will change how we look at health.”
More Research Needed
Although this study offers a new look at the link between LDL cholesterol and venous thromboembolism, Dr. Geoffrey Barnes, a cardiologist and vascular medicine specialist who was not involved in the new study, warns that more research is needed. He does call it a significant study that could potentially help to identify new treatment and preventions for VTE.
Barnes said, “Venous thromboembolism is an important cause of cardiovascular death and disability in the United States and worldwide. So, anything we can do to understand why it occurs and how to better treat it is really important.”
According to the American Heart Association, approximately one million people in the U.S. were treated for VTE in 2014. It is most common in adults 60 and older, but can occur at any age. Ongoing genetic testing and research will continue to offer new treatments and preventions for those suffering from VTE.