What's New To protect against heart disease, should you test your blood sugar level routinely, even if you're not diabetic? That's what some doctors are advising on the basis of growing evidence that high levels boost the risk of heart disease in all patients. The latest evidence: a pair of studies in the Sept. 21 Annals of Internal Medicine.

The Findings In one study, involving more than 10,000 men and women in Norfolk, England, those with blood sugar levels above 150 milligrams per deciliter at the start were more likely to develop cardiovascular disease or die over the next six to eight years, regardless of other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes. In the second study, Johns Hopkins University researchers pooled findings from 13 earlier reports to conclude that among people with type 2 diabetes, every 1 percent rise in blood sugar produces an 18 percent jump in the risk of heart disease.

What's Next? For people with diabetes, the results underscore the importance of monitoring blood sugar levels by patients and physicians, says endocrinologist Sherita Golden, lead researcher for the Hopkins study. Patients would be well advised to check levels more often than the twice a day that's generally advised, she said -- and consult their doctors if levels consistently rise above 150.

For those who do not have diabetes, the prescription is less clear-cut. Endocrinologist Stephen Clement, director of the Diabetes Center at Georgetown University Hospital, recommends routine blood sugar checks for all patients 40 and older. Richard Katz, head of cardiology at the George Washington University Medical Center, recommends checks only for patients at increased risk -- those with elevated cholesterol and hypertension or a family history of diabetes.

-- Rita Zeidner