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What is Lipoprotein(a)?

You’ll often see lipoprotein(a) referred to as Lp(a), pronounced “L-P-little-A.”

It is an important genetic factor that increases the risk for both heart disease and stroke.

Research tells us that 1 in 5 people in the US have high Lp(a). That's 63 million people. Even though this genetic disorder affects this many people, it is not included on most standard lipid panels. Knowing your Lp(a) levels is essential to understanding your risk factors and making healthy choices.

What Lp(a) levels are considered high?

Unlike measuring LDL cholesterol, measuring Lp(a) is not completely standardized yet. This means there is more than one way to report Lp(a) levels.

It’s very important that you pay attention to the unit number next to your Lp(a) measurement.

Your Lp(a) is high if it’s greater than:

  • 125 nmol/L
        OR
  • 50 mg/dL

What does it mean to have high Lp(a)?

The first thing to know is that your Lp(a) level is genetically determined. You inherited your Lp(a) level from your parents, and your level is completely unrelated to diet and lifestyle choices.

You can find out your Lp(a) levels with a simple blood test.

If you have high Lp(a), this is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. A high level of Lp(a) leads to plaque buildup in your arteries, gradually narrowing them and limiting blood supply to the heart, brain, kidneys, and legs.

How do genetics play a role in Lp(a)?

The amount of Lp(a) in your body is determined by the genes you received at birth from your parents.

Lp(a) reaches its adult level by around age 5 and generally remains relatively stable thereafter — except during acute illness, menopause, and in the setting of chronic kidney disease which can all cause Lp(a) to increase considerably. Recent studies have, however, documented that Lp(a) levels can vary by as much as 20% up or down without cause.  We call this biological variation. Again, Lp(a) levels are unrelated to your lifestyle.

Do different ethnicities have different Lp(a) levels?

High Lp(a) occurs in all ethnicities, but it seems to be more common in Black and South Asian individuals than in white, Hispanic, or East Asian individuals.

More research and improved testing methods are needed to better understand the influence of race and ethnicity on Lp(a).

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