Mind body

Halting High Cholesterol for People with Bleeding Disorders

Nearly 94 million Americans have this risk factor for heart disease. Here’s what people with bleeding disorders can do about it.
Author: Celeste Sepessy

Jennifer DeGlopper found out she had high cholesterol — a risk factor for heart disease — in her 20s during a regular screening. She was active and maintained a healthy weight, but she also had a family history of heart disease to consider, plus she has von Willebrand disease and hemophilia B.

DeGlopper’s father died of a heart attack at 58. “As I get closer to that age, I’m trying to be more proactive,” the 56-year-old says.

And so, when she experienced chest pain, she saw a cardiologist. She discovered she still had high cholesterol levels, defined as more than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). It was time for some changes.

DeGlopper and Barbara Konkle, M.D., a hematologist at the Washington Center for Bleeding Disorders in Seattle, offer this advice for managing high cholesterol with a bleeding disorder.

Start with Lifestyle Changes

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key to preventing and managing high cholesterol: Eat better, exercise more, stop smoking, and limit alcohol intake.

In particular, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.

DeGlopper lost 30 pounds on a plant-based diet, but her cholesterol was still too high. “I was always told to change your diet, lose a little weight, and it will go down — but it never did,” she says.

Konkle reminds patients that these changes have considerable cardiovascular benefits, even if it doesn’t lower cholesterol.

How to Prevent Heart Disease

Take Cholesterol-Lowering Statins

“When high cholesterol isn’t controlled by diet, then medically the first step is a statin,” Konkle says.

Statin medications block a cholesterol-producing enzyme to reduce low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, also known as the “bad” kind of cholesterol. Konkle says they’re extremely effective at not only decreasing cholesterol but also preventing heart attacks and strokes.

DeGlopper started taking cholesterol and blood pressure medications in 2021 with great success; her total cholesterol dropped from 263 to 160, in the healthy range for her age.

Connect Bleeding Disorders and Heart Health

Studies have shown that people with hemophilia have a lower heart attack risk, Konkle explains. Others have found that men with hemophilia are more likely to have high blood pressure.

Konkle says there’s a “very mild” bleeding risk with statins, but their effectiveness greatly outweighs the risk.

She recommends avoiding fish oil, garlic, and turmeric supplements, which carry an increased possibility of bleeding without proven benefits.

“Everyone should be sure that their blood pressure and cholesterol are well controlled,” she says. “This is as important for individuals with bleeding disorders as it is for anyone else.”

5 Habits for Better Heart Health: Getting screened for high cholesterol is one way to avoid heart disease. See other heart-healthy habits here.