Background: As the prevalence of hypercholesterolemia is increasing in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), detailed evidence is urgently needed to guide the response of health systems to this epidemic. This study sought to quantify unmet need for hypercholesterolemia care among adults in 35 LMICs.
Methods and findings: We pooled individual-level data from 129,040 respondents aged 15 years and older from 35 nationally representative surveys conducted between 2009 and 2018. Hypercholesterolemia care was quantified using cascade of care analyses in the pooled sample and by region, country income group, and country. Hypercholesterolemia was defined as (i) total cholesterol (TC) ≥240 mg/dL or self-reported lipid-lowering medication use and, alternatively, as (ii) low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) ≥160 mg/dL or self-reported lipid-lowering medication use. Stages of the care cascade for hypercholesterolemia were defined as follows: screened (prior to the survey), aware of diagnosis, treated (lifestyle advice and/or medication), and controlled (TC <200 mg/dL or LDL-C <130 mg/dL). We further estimated how age, sex, education, body mass index (BMI), current smoking, having diabetes, and having hypertension are associated with cascade progression using modified Poisson regression models with survey fixed effects. High TC prevalence was 7.1% (95% CI: 6.8% to 7.4%), and high LDL-C prevalence was 7.5% (95% CI: 7.1% to 7.9%). The cascade analysis showed that 43% (95% CI: 40% to 45%) of study participants with high TC and 47% (95% CI: 44% to 50%) with high LDL-C ever had their cholesterol measured prior to the survey. About 31% (95% CI: 29% to 33%) and 36% (95% CI: 33% to 38%) were aware of their diagnosis; 29% (95% CI: 28% to 31%) and 33% (95% CI: 31% to 36%) were treated; 7% (95% CI: 6% to 9%) and 19% (95% CI: 18% to 21%) were controlled. We found substantial heterogeneity in cascade performance across countries and higher performances in upper-middle-income countries and the Eastern Mediterranean, Europe, and Americas. Lipid screening was significantly associated with older age, female sex, higher education, higher BMI, comorbid diagnosis of diabetes, and comorbid diagnosis of hypertension. Awareness of diagnosis was significantly associated with older age, higher BMI, comorbid diagnosis of diabetes, and comorbid diagnosis of hypertension. Lastly, treatment of hypercholesterolemia was significantly associated with comorbid hypertension and diabetes, and control of lipid measures with comorbid diabetes. The main limitations of this study are a potential recall bias in self-reported information on received health services as well as diminished comparability due to varying survey years and varying lipid guideline application across country and clinical settings.
Conclusions: Cascade performance was poor across all stages, indicating large unmet need for hypercholesterolemia care in this sample of LMICs-calling for greater policy and research attention toward this cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factor and highlighting opportunities for improved prevention of CVD.