After having two heart attacks in the same week, Juli Townsend was released from the hospital with prescriptions that included a high-dose statin. That didn’t make sense to the then 37-year-old customer service representative from Spokane, Washington. “I asked the doctors why I needed a cholesterol-lowering drug when they’d repeatedly told me my cholesterol levels were ‘beautiful, like a teenager’s.’ The answer I got was, ‘That’s what we do after a heart attack.’”

Understandably, Townsend assumed that she was being treated for a problem she didn’t have. Several days later, after developing a side effect from the statin (a skin rash), she stopped taking the pills, believing that they were unnecessary and even harmful. She also assumed that she’d been checked for all cholesterol abnormalities that might explain why she’d suffered two heart attacks at such a young age, despite being a physically fit nonsmoker with no family history of heart disease. However, both assumptions were wrong, leaving Juli at high risk for yet another heart attack.

50% of Heart Attacks Happen to People with “Normal” Cholesterol

Like Townsend, nearly 50% of Americans who are hospitalized for a heart attack have cholesterol levels classified as “optimal” under national guidelines, a large study published in American Heart Journal reported. The blood test these patients usually receive certainly sounds comprehensive. Called a “lipid profile” or a “coronary risk panel,” this test checks levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides.

According to this test—and other standard methods of evaluating cardiovascular wellness during annual checkups—celebrity fitness trainer Bob Harper, famous for his starring role on the hit TV show “The Biggest Loser,” was the picture of health. Yet he suffered a massive “widow-maker” heart attack at age 52. Both Harper and his doctors were baffled about the cause. As The New York Times recently reported, “His annual checkups had indicated he was in excellent health. How could this have happened to someone so seemingly healthy?”

A $20 Test that Uncovers Hidden Heart Attack and Stroke Risk

The mystery of Townsend and Harper’s seemingly inexplicable heart attacks was solved when they received a $20 blood test that is not routinely used by medical providers in the United States. This test checks for a common, inherited cholesterol problem that has been shown, unequivocally, to actually cause heart attacks: high levels of a blood fat called lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a).

The BaleDoneen Method calls this disorder “the mass murderer” because elevated levels of this cholesterol triple risk for heart attacks, according to three large studies involving nearly 45,000 patients. High levels of lipoprotein (a) also magnify the risk for having heart attacks and strokes at a young age.

A Deadly Gap in Standard Healthcare in the U.S.: What to Do About It 

In 2010, the European Atherosclerosis Society (EAS) issued a scientific statement calling for routine screening and treatment of elevated Lp(a) levels, which are  found in about 20% of the population, as “an important priority to reduce cardiovascular risk.” Yet in the U.S., it’s still not the standard of care to treat—or even measure—this dangerous form of cholesterol that is found at elevated levels in up to one-third of heart attack survivors.

The BaleDoneen Method often sees patients who have suffered a heart attack or stroke, or multiple events, and still haven’t been tested or treated for a cholesterol problem that has been shown to actually cause these catastrophes. Have you ever has your Lp(a) levels checked? Has your healthcare provider recommended this testing? If the answer is no, consider this: Being left in the dark about this test nearly cost Townsend and Harper their lives. We recommend that everyone get this test, which can be performed at the same time as conventional cholesterol testing.

What Your Lp(a) Numbers May Reveal and Treatment Options

A recent 15-year study found that Lp(a) testing significantly improves risk prediction for cardiovascular (CV) events, such as heart attacks and strokes, thus helping medical providers more accurately identify and treat the patients at high risk—before an event occurs. In the study, 40% of patients previously classified as being at “intermediate risk” for CV events based on traditional risk factors (such as smoking, diabetes, family history and levels of total and LDL cholesterol) were reclassified when their Lp(a) levels were taken into account.

Since levels of Lp(a) are determined mainly by genetic factors, not lifestyle, if your Lp(a) is normal, there is no need to have it checked more than once, since your genes don’t change. If you do have elevated Lp(a), taking niacin (vitamin B3) under medical supervision can reduce levels by up to 40%, according to EAS. Lowering Lp(a) was shown to reduce risk for CV events by about 75% in a recent study published in Circulation. There is also some evidence that keeping LDL (bad cholesterol) levels as low as possible can help counteract much of the cardiovascular risk associated with elevated Lp(a).

In Townsend’s case, a combination of personalized therapies and lifestyle changes advised by the BaleDoneen Method have kept this young mother of two heart attack- and stroke-free since 2011. “Instead of worrying every day about when the next heart attack will happen as I did after leaving the hospital, I now feel super-safe,” she says. “I wish everyone could get wonderful, lifesaving care with the BaleDoneen Method.”