This fall, we recognize National Cholesterol Education Month - a time to reflect upon the importance of heart health and highlight the impact of high cholesterol on cardiovascular disease (CVD). As a cardiologist and physician researcher who feels passionately about diseases of the heart, moments like these present a welcome opportunity to help to educate at-risk individuals around the contributing factors for CVD, which remains the leading cause of death globally. Unfortunately, despite widely available medicines, many are still unaware of the risk factors that can lead to heart disease or stroke, making it difficult to find the right treatment that best meets their needs.
Accordingly, I believe it’s time that men and women of all ages better understand how to manage their CVD risk by monitoring and treating their cholesterol. Here’s a look at how to improve your heart health by getting these critical factors under control.
For those who are unaware, cholesterol is a fatty molecule that circulates in the blood. There are two main types of cholesterol: HDL cholesterol, which is good for your health, and LDL cholesterol, which is bad for it. As the amount of LDL cholesterol increases, so too does the risk of cholesterol slowly building in your arteries, contributing to an increased likelihood of heart disease and stroke.
Because LDL cholesterol is the main source of this artery-clogging plaque, it’s very important to monitor your cholesterol levels so you can take action to address them. In order to do so, the American Heart Association recommends following the “check, change and control” method to manage your risk:
• Check your cholesterol levels.
• Change your diet and lifestyle to help improve your levels.
• Control your cholesterol, with help from your doctor, if needed.
Finding the right treatment
Once you’ve identified your LDL cholesterol levels, the next step is to find the right treatment that will help you reach your recommended LDL cholesterol levels. Today, the most commonly prescribed medicines to lower LDL cholesterol are called statins and there is substantial evidence that statins can effectively lower LDL cholesterol. Unfortunately, for many patients, statins have side effects that can limit the dose of medicine they can tolerate, and some patients cannot tolerate statins at all.
For at-risk individuals, this means that many people cannot reach their recommended LDL cholesterol levels on statins alone. As such, if you’re having trouble keeping your levels down, it’s important to talk to your doctor about finding a non-statin option that best meets your needs.
Make no mistake: High cholesterol is an elusive and dangerous health condition - usually presenting zero symptoms before complications begin to occur. With this in mind, it’s time to have your doctor check your cholesterol levels and discuss treatment options that can bring your numbers back to a healthy threshold. Don’t wait, your heart health depends on it.