DUBAI // Half the number of patients with high cholesterol are not reaching their treatment goals, putting them at risk of heart disease, a study shows.
The research, which is the first to look at cholesterol management in the region, surveyed more than 5,000 adult patients across the GCC. More than 500 came from the UAE.
The study was conducted by Emirates Cardiac Society in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
Patients were quizzed three months after their doctors prescribed a treatment plan, after which their cholesterol levels were supposed to have dropped considerably.
But results showed that half of all patients were not reaching safe levels as set out in international guidelines from the American Heart Association and the European Society of Cardiology.
These standards stipulate that high-risk individuals, including those who have previously experienced a heart attack or stroke, must maintain a low-density lipoprotein (LDL) level below 70 milligrams per decilitre.
Also knows as the "bad cholesterol", LDL is a main factor in cardiovascular disease.
Doctors in the UAE attributed the results to a lack of follow-ups by physicians.
The study showed 70 per cent of doctors claimed to inform their patients about their target cholesterol levels, but only 40 per cent of patients said they received this information from their physicians.
"This clearly shows there is a gap between what doctors are trying to communicate and patient understanding," said Dr Afzal Yusufali, a consultant physician and cardiologist at Dubai Hospital.
"If doctors took the time to explain to patients the complications from this illness, then they would take it seriously."
The data show there is "room to improve the practice in clinics", said Dr Fahad Baslaib, the chairman of the Emirates Cardiac Society.
High cholesterol is asymptomatic and many patients do not experience indications until it is too late. As a result, they do not take the precautions to protect themselves from heart disease. This includes taking medication daily, exercising and following a healthy diet.
The cost and possible side effects of a commonly prescribed class of drugs called statins also plays a role, doctors said.
The daily drug costs between Dh100 and Dh400 for a one-month supply, depending on whether it is generic, and possible side-effects include muscle pain, digestive problems and memory loss.
Doctors said nearly two decades of clinical studies showed the drug was effective and safe.
But medication is only one aspect of an effective treatment plan, Dr Baslaib said.
"It is not just the medicine that plays a role," he said. "It is the patient's commitment to modify his or her life."