Epidemiology as a guide to clinical decisions. The association between triglyceride and coronary heart disease

The New England Journal of Medicine
S B HulleyR J Brand

Abstract

The hypothesis that triglyceride is a cause of coronary heart disease, although unconfirmed and never universally accepted, has nonetheless strongly influenced the practice of preventive medicine. We have examined the epidemiologic association between triglyceride and coronary heart disease to evaluate the validity of inferring that there is a causal relation between the two. Neither the evidence from published studies nor an analysis of data from the Western Collaborative Group Study provides strong support for the causal hypothesis. Information from other scientific disciplines is also meager, contrasting with the coherence of diverse evidence supporting the hypothesis that cholesterol is a cause of coronary heart disease. These arguments fall short of disproving the belief that lowering triglyceride will prevent coronary heart disease, especially since triglyceride and cholesterol are inextricably associated through mutual lipoprotein carriers. But we propose that the ethics of preventive medicine place the burden of proof on the proponents of intervention. We therefore recommend that widespread screening and treatment of healthy persons for hypertriglyceridemia be abandoned until more persuasive evidence becomes available.

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