“The doctor-patient relationship has to be viewed as a team.”
Getting a high cholesterol reading isn’t always a reason to panic. Having high cholesterol, however, is a good opportunity to reflect on your risk factors. That’s because high cholesterol can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Your risk for heart attack or stroke depends on your whole health profile, or if you have medical conditions that may also increase your risk. “Somebody who's a diabetic, who's had a history of heart problems, a stroke, who has a history of kidney problems, they're going to be at an increased risk of having further problems based on high cholesterol,” says Lawrence Phillips, MD, cardiologist at NYU Langone Health.
Asking about your individual risk is one of the many important questions you should discuss with your doctor. This may help you understand why your doctor may recommend certain treatments.
“There are two arms of treatment when it comes to high cholesterol,” says Dr. Phillips. The first is lifestyle changes, which may include exercise and diet changes, weight loss, or quitting smoking. The second arm is medications. Depending on your risk and individual needs, your doctor may recommend that you take cholesterol-lowering medications, such as a statin.
Questions to Ask About Your Cholesterol Treatment Plan
As you talk to your doctor about your treatment plan for high cholesterol, having questions on hand can be helpful. Once you’re sitting in your doctor’s office, it’s easy to forget everything you planned to talk about. For this reason, it can be helpful to jot down your questions ahead of time.
Questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is my cholesterol level? What should my cholesterol level be?
- What’s my risk of heart attack or stroke?
- How often should I check my cholesterol?
- What lifestyle changes do I need to make?
- What resources are available to help me quit smoking?
- What medicines am I taking to treat high cholesterol?
- Do these medicines have any side effects?
- How do I know if my medicine is working?
- Are there foods, other medicines, vitamins, or herbal supplements that may change how well my cholesterol medicines work?
- What happens if this treatment plan doesn’t improve my cholesterol—what’s next?
Communicating with Your Doctor
“It's important that patients have an open conversation with their doctors about the treatment plan for their high cholesterol diagnosis,” says Dr. Phillps. “By asking those questions, often by keeping a list that they bring to the doctor's office, they will leave the office feeling more comfortable, more confident, and will be more successful.”
Remember, you and your doctor are a team. That’s why it’s important to work together to find the right treatment plan for you and keep the conversation going as you continue the treatment journey.
“I can give instructions to a patient easily, but if they're not able to fulfill those goals or there are challenges or barriers that I don't know about, they're not going to be successful,” says Dr. Phillips. “Patients have to feel comfortable in that relationship to bring up their concerns [and] their questions, because we both want the relationship and the medical care to be successful.”
Lawrence Phillips, MD, is a cardiologist at NYU Langone Health. Dr. Phillips is the assistant professor of the Department of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the assistant clinical director for strategic affairs at Leon H. Charney Division of Cardiology, the director of the Nuclear Cardiology Laboratory, the medical director for Outpatient Clinical Cardiology, and the associate director of the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program.
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When told of a diagnosis of high cholesterol,
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feelings can run rampant from being frustrated
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and it's important that that first be part of the discussion,
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and then an active plan be made to improve it,
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where patients are able to take control
of their lifestyle modifications,
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looking at incremental steps to improve their health.
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(slow and mellow music)
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There are two arms of treatment
when it comes to high cholesterol.
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The first arm is lifestyle modifications,
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and that includes monitoring your weight,
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monitoring your diet, your exercise,
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not smoking, making sure that you stop smoking
if you haven't,
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as well as knowing your numbers,
such as your cholesterol
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and your blood pressure numbers to make sure
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that they're well controlled.
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The second arm is gonna have to do with medications
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or pharmacologic therapy,
with the first-line medication
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being a statin medication,
which decreases the liver production
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of cholesterol, and then other medications as needed
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to get you to goal.
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It's important that patients have an open conversation
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with their doctors about the treatment plan
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for their high cholesterol diagnosis.
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First, it's very important that they share concerns
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that they have about changes
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that they're gonna be making in their lifestyle.
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If they think that they're going to need help
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with any of these changes,
bring it up in the conversation.
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For example, somebody who's been smoking
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for a number of years,
and says they're gonna quit,
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the question is, how do I quit?
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What resources are available?
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We have tons of resources to help people stop smoking,
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but we need to make sure that that's a conversation,
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When it comes to medications, patients should always
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be asking about side effects.
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They should be asking about how to know
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that the medication's been successful in their treatment.
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When should they have repeat blood work
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to tell of that success?
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And by asking those questions,
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often by keeping a list
that they bring to the doctor's office,
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they will leave the office feeling more comfortable,
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more confident, and will be more successful.
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I can give instructions to a patient easily,
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but if they're not able to fulfill those goals,
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or there are challenges or barriers
that I don't know about,
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they're not gonna be successful.
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So patients have to feel comfortable in that relationship
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to bring up their concerns, bring up their questions,
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because we both want the relationship
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and the medical care to be successful.