Serum cholesterol in young men and subsequent cardiovascular disease

M J Klag, D E Ford, L A Mead, J He, P K Whelton, K Y Liang, D M Levine
New England Journal of Medicine 1993 February 4, 328 (5): 313-8

BACKGROUND: The increased risk of cardiovascular disease associated with higher serum cholesterol levels in middle-aged persons has been clearly established, but there have been few opportunities to examine a potential link between serum cholesterol levels measured in young men and clinically evident premature cardiovascular disease later in life.

METHODS: We performed a prospective study of 1017 young men (mean age, 22 years) followed for 27 to 42 years to quantify the risk of cardiovascular disease and total mortality associated with serum cholesterol levels during early adult life. The mean serum cholesterol level at entry was 192 mg per deciliter (5.0 mmol per liter).

RESULTS: During a median follow-up of 30.5 years, there were 125 cardiovascular-disease events, 97 of which were due to coronary heart disease. The serum cholesterol level at base line was strongly associated with the incidence of events related to coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease, as well as to total mortality and mortality due to cardiovascular disease. The risks were similar whether the events occurred before or after the age of 50. In a proportional-hazards analysis adjusted for age, body-mass index (the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters), the level of physical activity, coffee intake, change in smoking status, and the incidence of diabetes and hypertension during follow-up, a difference in the serum cholesterol level at base line of 36 mg per deciliter (0.9 mmol per liter)--the difference between the 25th and 75th percentiles of cholesterol level in the study population at base line--was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (relative risk, 1.72; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.39 to 2.14), coronary heart disease (relative risk, 2.01; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.59 to 2.53), and mortality due to cardiovascular disease (relative risk, 2.02; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.23 to 3.32). A difference in the base-line serum cholesterol level of 36 mg per deciliter was significantly associated with an increased risk of death before the age of 50 (relative risk, 1.64; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.03 to 2.61), but not with the overall risk of death (relative risk, 1.21; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.93 to 1.58).

CONCLUSIONS: These findings indicate a strong association between the serum cholesterol level measured early in adult life in men and cardiovascular disease in midlife.

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