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A number of Americans have put their hearts into lowering their cholesterol. Yet a recent American Heart Association survey found that many adults with high cholesterol still don't realize that they have an increased risk of developing heart disease.

According to the survey, 50 percent of respondents with cholesterol levels of 200 or greater, and who had risk factors such as high blood pressure or diabetes, did not perceive themselves to be at high risk for cardiovascular disease. Fifteen percent believed they were at low risk. However, the American Heart Association and National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) data indicate that many of these respondents are in danger of having a heart attack within a decade.

Cholesterol guidelines established by both groups show that people with multiple risk factors-smoking, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, etc.-and people with coronary heart disease and other conditions are at high risk of having a heart attack within 10 years.

The findings are the focus of this year's American Heart Association's Cholesterol Low Down program, an effort meant to help teach people about their risk of heart disease. Anyone can join the program by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1 or visiting Participants receive a Healthy Heart Kit, which includes "The Cholesterol Low Down About Your Cholesterol" guide and a "Low-Fat Favorite Recipes" cookbook. The Cholesterol Low Down is sponsored by Pfizer.

"Patients know that cholesterol is important; however, they need to better understand that their high cholesterol and additional risk factors may lead to heart disease or a stroke," said Roger S. Blumenthal, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine in Baltimore.

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The survey also found that 72 percent of respondents strongly agree that their health care provider is a partner in managing their cholesterol. Those who frequently discuss cholesterol with their health care provider report being well-informed about issues such as setting personal cholesterol goals and the importance of following treatment plans.

"Health care providers are an important and supportive resource for individuals at risk for heart disease and stroke because of their cholesterol and other risk factors, " said Lori Mosca, M.D., Director of Preventive Cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital; Associate Professor of Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. "Patients should work with their doctor to learn if their cholesterol levels are healthy and to develop a plan that includes a healthy diet and physical activity to reduce their risk."

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There's good news for those feeling the pressure to know more about high blood pressure and heart disease.

Nearly one in three adults has high blood pressure. Since the condition has no warning signs or symptoms, it's important to know your risk factors. High blood pressure management is imperative to reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease-the single largest killer of Americans.

Fortunately, a free online tool has been created that offers information and ways to create a personal heart health profile to let you know your personal treatment options.

The tool-called Heart Profilers-includes an integrated index of medical terminology to ensure that patients understand their condition and all treatment options. The tool can also connect interested patients, at their request, to nearby clinical trials so that they learn about qualifying for experimental treatment programs.

While anyone can develop high blood pressure, regardless of race, age or gender, it is possible to prevent and control high blood pressure by taking steps, such as maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, following a healthy eating plan that emphasizes fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy foods, and choosing and preparing foods with less salt and sodium.

About 70 percent of people who have a first heart attack and nearly 80 percent who have a first stroke have blood pressures higher than 140/90 mm Hg. A 10 percent decrease in blood pressure levels may result in an estimated 30 percent reduction in the incidence of coronary heart disease.

"Heart Profilers helps patients assess their risk for heart disease and offers them a list of treatment options," said Dr. Clyde Yancy, associate professor of medicine/ cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "It's a major advance in online technology that has the potential to change the way patients and physicians interact with each other. This tool takes some of the mystery out of surfing the Web for health information."

In addition to high blood pressure, Heart Profilers also covers cholesterol, atrial fibrillation, heart failure and coronary artery disease. For more information, visit profilers.

The American Heart Association also has a detailed site dedicated to high blood pressure