Unveiling the Silent Culprit: The Overlooked Role of Lipoprotein(a) in Heart Attack Risk


12/5/20232 min read

two red hearts cutout
two red hearts cutout

In the relentless battle against heart disease, a formidable but often overlooked foe has emerged—Lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a). Despite being a major genetic risk factor for heart attacks, public awareness regarding Lp(a) remains surprisingly low. In this comprehensive exploration, we delve into the intricate details of Lp(a), its impact on cardiovascular health, the challenges in its recognition, and the potential future therapeutic landscape.

Understanding Lp(a):

Lipoprotein(a) is a protein responsible for transporting cholesterol in the bloodstream, functioning alongside the well-known LDL and HDL. However, Lp(a) distinguishes itself by posing a triple threat to cardiovascular health. Firstly, it contributes to atherosclerosis, the accumulation of fats and cholesterol in the arteries. Secondly, it induces inflammation, a critical aspect of plaque progression and heart attack risk. Thirdly, Lp(a) heightens the risk of clot formation, potentially obstructing vital arteries.

Risk Factors and Prevalence:

Approximately 20% of the population harbors an increased risk due to elevated Lp(a) levels. This risk is even more pronounced in specific genetic groups, with Black and South Asian Americans facing heightened susceptibility. Despite its prevalence and potential life-threatening implications, Lp(a) testing remains shockingly underutilized, with less than 1% of Americans estimated to have undergone this crucial assessment.

Challenges in Testing:

The current landscape of risk screening tools presents a significant gap, as Lp(a) is often excluded from calculations assessing cardiovascular risk. Factors such as age, gender, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and smoking history take precedence, sidelining Lp(a) as a pivotal contributor. Limited access and the cost of Lp(a) testing compound the challenge, leading to a lack of comprehensive risk evaluation.

Control and Mitigation:

Unlike LDL, which lifestyle modifications can influence, Lp(a) proves resistant to such interventions. Presently, there is no direct therapeutic available to reduce elevated Lp(a). However, Dr. Seth Baum, a leading cardiologist, emphasizes that while Lp(a) risk may persist, mitigating overall cardiovascular risk through the management of other factors remains crucial.

Testing and Monitoring:

Lp(a) levels, integral to assessing heart attack risk, can be determined through a straightforward blood sample. Dr. Baum advocates for widespread testing, aligning with European and Canadian guidelines that endorse universal screening. Despite the relative stability of Lp(a) levels over a lifetime, certain factors like menopause, low thyroid function, or kidney disease can influence them, warranting periodic assessments.

Future Therapeutic Possibilities:

In the realm of potential therapeutics, lipoprotein apheresis emerges as a technique to cleanse the blood of Lp(a). However, its availability is limited and reserved for a select group of high-risk patients. Excitement surrounds ongoing research and clinical trials aimed at developing drug therapies specifically targeting elevated Lp(a). Dr. Baum, heavily involved in clinical research, expresses optimism about the prospect of significant advancements in the near future.


As the silent culprit in heart attack risk, Lipoprotein(a) demands our attention and understanding. Dr. Baum's insights underscore the urgency of recognizing and addressing Lp(a) levels in routine assessments, fostering a more holistic approach to cardiovascular health. While challenges persist, the medical community anticipates that ongoing research and therapeutic developments will usher in a new era of precision medicine, allowing for targeted interventions and personalized strategies in managing elevated Lp(a) and fortifying cardiovascular resilience.