For starters, know your individual risk factors.
If you have high cholesterol—and lifestyle changes haven’t brought your numbers down enough—statins might be a safe and effective option for you. Statins are a medication that aims to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. Whether or not to start taking statins is a decision that should be made after a conversation between you and your doctor.
“Patients should always know their individual cardiac risk when they’re talking to a doctor,” says Michelle W. Bloom, MD, cardio-oncologist at Stony Brook Medical Center. “The more strikes you have against you … the higher the likelihood that you will have a cardiac event, and that then translates into our need to use a statin to lower that risk.”
To make the most of your doctor’s appointments, here are tips for talking to your doctor about high-dose statins for high cholesterol.
1. Know your numbers
“Knowing your numbers” means knowing the key health measurements linked to heart health: blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol levels. Knowing your family history of heart problems is also beneficial.
While these numbers never tell the whole story, they do play an important role in your own risk assessment.
2. Understand your risk (and how you can modify it)
“The more you know about your own individual risk, the more empowered you can be to change those risks,” says Dr. Bloom.
You may not be able to change your genetic risk factors, but there are many lifestyle factors that affect heart health. You can lower your risk of a heart attack by:
Eating a heart-healthy diet
Maintaining a healthy weight
Relieving stress levels
Getting enough sleep
And limiting alcohol intake.
“If a patient understands that going into a doctor visit, it’s much more effective for that doctor and patient to have a discussion about whether it is appropriate to start a statin—and if it is appropriate to start a statin, what dose of that statin would be the best dose for that particular patient,” says Dr. Bloom.
3. Get to know your medicine
Starting a new medication can be confusing or intimidating. Be prepared to ask your doctor plenty of questions, such as:
What is this medication used for?
Why do I need this medication?
What are the potential side effects?
“Millions and millions of patients take statins, and you would never know,” says Dr. Bloom. “The reason why is because they are generally so well tolerated, you’re not going to run into any major side effects—and if you do, you can always talk to your doctor about it, and things can be adjusted.”
Dr. Bloom is an associate professor of medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center, a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, and a fellow of the Heart Failure Society of America.
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Patients should always know their individual cardiac risk
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when they're talking to a doctor.
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The more strikes you have against you in terms of your risk,
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the higher the likelihood that you will have a cardiac event,
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and that then translates into our need to use a statin
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to lower that risk.
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Patients can be empowered to know their numbers.
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They can know what their blood pressure is,
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they can know what their weight is,
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they can know what their family history is,
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they can know what their cholesterol levels are.
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The more you know about your own individual risk,
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the more empowered you can be
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to change those risks or modify those risks.
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For example, you can stop smoking,
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you can lose weight, you can have a more active lifestyle,
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but you can't change your genetics.
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If a patient understands that going into a doctor visit,
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it’s much more effective for that doctor and patient
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to have a discussion about whether it is
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appropriate to start a statin,
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and if it is appropriate to start a statin,
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what dose of that statin would be the best dose
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for that particular patient.
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It can always be overwhelming for patients
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when they are prescribed a new medication.
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I always say to patients, the most important thing
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is that before you take a medication, you need to understand
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what the medication is being used for,
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and why you need to take it,
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and also what the potential side effects are of those medications,
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so that you know what types of things to look for,
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and that way doctors can know to adjust the medication accordingly
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or maybe to switch you to a different type of medication
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that can accomplish the same thing.
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Millions and millions of patients take statins,
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and you would never know, and the reason why
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is because they are generally so well tolerated,
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you’re not going to run into any major side effects
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and if you do, you can always talk to your doctor about it,
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and things can be adjusted.
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Cholesterol medications. Dallas, TX; American Heart Association. (Accessed on January 9, 2020 at https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/prevention-and-treatment-of-high-cholesterol-hyperlipidemia/cholesterol-medications.)
Lifestyle changes for heart attack prevention. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on January 9, 2020 at https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/life-after-a-heart-attack/lifestyle-changes-for-heart-attack-prevention.)
Statins. Washington, DC: MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on January 9, 2020 at https://medlineplus.gov/statins.html.)