Your Cholesterol Treatment Plan: Questions to Ask Your Doctor

“The doctor-patient relationship has to be viewed as a team.”

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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.”