Peripheral atherosclerosis is a strong and independent predictor of mortality even in patients with known coronary heart disease. However, the prevalence, correlates, and potential adverse effects on quality of life associated with combined coronary heart disease and clinically evident cerebrovascular or lower-extremity atherosclerosis are not known. Identification of patients with "diffuse atherosclerosis" may enhance treatment of modifiable risk factors and alter therapeutic strategies.
We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 2531 men younger than 73 years with coronary heart disease, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels of 3.62 mmol/L (140 mg/dL) or less, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level of 1.03 mmol/L (40 mg/dL) or less who were participating in Department of Veterans Affairs Cooperative Study 363 (the Veterans Affairs High-Density Lipo-protein Intervention Trial. Baseline demographic, medication, comorbidity, and atherosclerotic risk factor data were assessed by means of a standardized questionnaire. All plasma lipid levels were determined after a 12-hour fast by a central standardized lipid laboratory. Health status was determined by baseline reported symptoms, medical comorbidities, and the Psychological General Well-being Index. Clinically evident diffuse atherosclerosis was defined as a documented history of lower-extremity atherosclerosis or cerebrovascular disease.
The mean age of all participants was 63.5 years. The mean plasma lipid values were as follows: total cholesterol, 4,52 mmol/L (174.6 mg/dL); high-density lipo-protein cholesterol, 0.81 mmol/L (31.5 mg/dL); low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, 2.88 mmol/L (111.2 mg/dL); and triglycerides, 1.81 mmol/L (160.6 mg/dL). Diffuse atherosclerosis was present in 525 (21%). Lower-extremity atherosclerosis was reported in 10%, while cerebrovascular disease was present in 13%. After controlling for other variables, the following factors were associated with the presence of diffuse atherosclerosis: increased age, being unmarried, being retired, having less than a high school education, increased alcohol use, hypertension, cigarette smoking, and diabetes. There was no association between lipid levels and the presence of diffuse atherosclerosis. After adjustment for age, race, and comorbidities, men with diffuse disease still had a reduced quality of life compared with men without diffuse atherosclerosis, as defined by having a greater number of clinical symptoms, lower psychological well-being scores, and more advanced or complicated coronary heart disease.
Clinically evident diffuse atherosclerosis is common in men with coronary heart disease and low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Because diffuse atherosclerosis is associated with a reduced quality of life and several modifiable risk factors, early detection and aggressive risk factor intervention appear justified.