Screening for total cholesterol. Do the National Cholesterol Education Program's recommendations detect individuals at high risk of coronary heart disease?
BACKGROUND The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) has provided guidelines for identification of persons at high risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) because of lipid abnormalities. These recommendations are based on total cholesterol as the initial screening tool and have become the stimulus for clinic- and community-based screening programs nationwide. However, the use of the guidelines may be problematic because individuals may have total cholesterol levels in the desirable range but low density lipoprotein (LDL) or high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels considered at high risk. This study evaluates the ability of the NCEP screening recommendations to identify correctly persons at high risk of CHD because of lipid abnormalities.
METHODS AND RESULTS Using the NCEP guidelines, we simulated a population-based screening program with data from visits 1 and 2 of the Lipid Research Clinics Program Prevalence Study. Individuals were considered to be at high risk of CHD if they had LDL levels greater than 160 mg/dl or HDL levels less than 35 mg/dl. Following the NCEP process, 21% of those with high LDL concentrations and 66% of those with low HDL concentrations would not be routinely referred for immediate treatment. Overall, 41% of those at high risk of CHD would not be promptly evaluated. The sensitivity of the guidelines for promptly identifying individuals with lipoprotein abnormalities is 59%.
CONCLUSIONS This relatively low sensitivity of total cholesterol as a screening tool should be the impetus for rethinking the screening guidelines. Specifically, the cost-benefit ratio of routine screening for lipoproteins, particularly HDL cholesterol, needs to be carefully considered.
- Copyright © 1991 by American Heart Association