Written by: Kate Higham

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death globally, underscoring the importance of identifying and monitoring key biomarkers that can help predict the risk of cardiovascular disease. One such biomarker is Lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a). Unfortunately, this essential lipid remains relatively unknown to many of us. We are here to change that.

Let’s dive into the world of lipoprotein(a), exploring what it is, its role in cardiovascular health, and the importance of early detection.

What is Lipoprotein(a)?

Lipoprotein(a), commonly abbreviated as Lp(a), is a type of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) produced by the liver. It is composed of a combination of proteins and fats called lipids. Like other lipoproteins, Lp(a) plays a crucial role in transporting lipids throughout the body, ensuring they reach their intended destinations. What sets Lp(a) apart from other lipids is the presence of an additional protein called apolipoprotein(a) or apo(a).

The role of Lipoprotein(a) in heart health

In small amounts, Lp(a) may have some protective effects on cardiovascular health by preventing excessive clotting and contributing to wound healing. However, elevated levels of Lp(a) in the blood have been linked to an increased risk of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and strokes.

This is because:

  1. Plaques: Similar to LDL-cholesterol, Lp(a) can accumulate in the walls of your blood vessels, forming cholesterol deposits known as plaques.

  2. Clotting: High levels of Lp(a) can prompt excessive clotting, which can rapidly form blockages in blood vessels.

  3. Inflammation: Lp(a) promotes inflammation, making plaques more prone to rupturing.

Although elevated levels of Lp(a) may increase a person’s likelihood of certain conditions such as heart disease or stroke, it does not guarantee they will develop them. It’s important to talk to a healthcare provider about your individual risk.

Why is Lp(a) testing important?

Unlike other lipids, Lp(a) levels are not significantly influenced by changes in diet and lifestyle. However healthy lifestyle changes can still be an important way to reduce your risk of heart disease. Early detection of elevated Lp(a) allows for proactive interventions to mitigate potential cardiovascular risks. Testing for Lp(a) can provide valuable insights and aid your healthcare provider in tailoring personalized treatment plans to reduce your risk of heart disease.

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Who should consider Lp(a) testing?

Your healthcare provider will be able to provide more information about who may benefit from testing. Testing may be recommended for people who are at a higher risk of heart disease, such as those with:

  1. A Family History of Heart Disease: If you have a family history of heart disease, especially if a close relative experienced a heart attack or stroke at a young age, testing for Lp(a) may be recommended. Lp(a) levels are primarily (up to 90%), determined by a person’s genes [1].

  2. Patients with Cardiovascular Disease: Those who have a history of heart disease may benefit from LP(a) testing.

  3. Individuals with elevated LDL Cholesterol: If your routine cholesterol test reveals very high LDL cholesterol levels or a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia runs in your family, assessing your Lp(a) levels could be beneficial.

Managing high Lp(a) levels

Early detection of elevated Lp(a) levels allows for timely intervention to reduce the associated cardiovascular risks. While lifestyle changes may not directly impact Lp(a) levels, they still play a crucial role in overall heart health. Adopting a heart-healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, managing stress, and avoiding smoking can all contribute to better cardiovascular outcomes. Depending on your personal medical history, our healthcare provider may also offer treatment options to help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Share all test results with your healthcare provider and talk to them about the next steps.

The takeaway

Lipoprotein (a) represents a crucial, yet often overlooked, biomarker for heart health. By understanding the significance of Lp(a) as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, you can take proactive steps to reduce the risk of heart disease and improve overall heart health. Lp(a) testing, especially for those with a family history of heart disease or known risk factors, can aid in early detection and personalized risk management. Armed with this knowledge, you and your healthcare team can make informed decisions, paving the way for a healthier and happier heart.

Check out our Heart Health knowledge hub for the insights you need to stay on top of your heart health.

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  1. NCBI: High Lp(a) causes. Online: ncbi.gov