October 22, 2014
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Cholesterol


How can I reduce my risk?

Assessing your risk

The higher your cholesterol the higher your heart disease risk level. High cholesterol is one of the multiple risk factors for heart disease. You can calculate your heart disease risk level using our heart disease risk calculator.

Lowering your cholesterol can have a major impact on your risk of developing heart disease. For every 1.0 mmol/L decrease in your LDL cholesterol (or "bad cholesterol") levels, your risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease falls by 20% to 25%. That's why it's important to reduce your "bad cholesterol" levels as much as possible - the lower the better! The recommended target for everyone at risk of developing heart disease is to lower LDL cholesterol by at least 50%. By getting your cholesterol under control, you can help reduce your risk of dying from heart disease. Effective treatment saves lives!

Talk to your doctor about your risk of developing heart disease, which treatment plan is right for you, how to set goals for your treatment, and how to evaluate the success of your treatment.

Treating high cholesterol

Normally, you can't see or feel high cholesterol - it's usually a "silent disease." But left untreated, high cholesterol can lead to very serious complications, including heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, angina (chest pain), circulation problems, and death.

The usual goal of treatment is to lower your "bad cholesterol" as much as possible - the lower, the better. The recommended target for everyone at risk of developing heart disease is to lower LDL cholesterol by at least 50%. Each reduction in bad cholesterol is associated with a large drop in the risk of heart attacks and dying from heart disease: for every 1.0 mmol/L reduction in LDL cholesterol, this risk goes down by 20% to 25%.

The usual treatment options for high cholesterol are healthy lifestyle changes, used alone or in combination with medications.

Healthy lifestyle changes include:

  • reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight
  • eating a healthier diet
  • getting regular exercise
  • quitting smoking
  • moderating your alcohol intake

Learn more about these healthy lifestyle changes here. Healthy lifestyle changes can help address your modifiable risk factors (things you can change) for heart disease. But there are also non-modifiable risk factors (things you can't change). Medications can help offset some of the risk caused by these factors.

Medications for high cholesterol include:

  • statins
  • cholesterol absorption inhibitors
  • resins
  • fibrates
  • niacin

Learn more about these medications here.

Talk to your doctor to learn more about finding the treatment that's right for you.

Taking medication

This section deals with some common issues that you may have during medication treatment. To learn more about specific medications, click here.

Setting treatment expectations

If you start medication therapy, you and your doctor will work together to set goals for your treatment. Having clear goals will make it easier to evaluate the success of your treatment. The main goal for cholesterol medication treatment is to reach certain target cholesterol levels. In general, the lower your cholesterol levels, the better. The target for everyone is to reduce LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) by at least 50% from their starting cholesterol level.

Talk to your doctor what your cholesterol target levels should be. To learn more, read "Setting goals."

Managing side effects

Concerns about side effects are common if you are considering starting treatment with cholesterol medications. Fortunately, most side effects can be managed, and there are steps you can take to reduce the impact of potential side effects:

  • Ask your doctor if you are starting on the most appropriate dose of your cholesterol medication. Higher doses generally cause more side effects. Reducing the dose can help with many cholesterol medication side effects. You may need to try different doses (as recommended by your doctor) until you find the dose that controls your cholesterol without causing bothersome side effects.
  • Know which side effects to watch for. To learn more about possible side effects from cholesterol medication, see " Using medication as directed" or read the drug factsheet for your medication. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what to do if side effects do occur.
  • Take your medication exactly as directed. Follow instructions from your doctor or pharmacist about what to do if you miss a dose so that you don't accidentally take a double dose.
  • Be on the lookout for side effects when you first start the medication and when your dose is increased.

Sticking with your medication

It can be hard to stick with your medication, for many reasons:

  • High cholesterol is usually a silent disease, so when you take medication to lower your cholesterol, you can't feel it working.
  • You may suffer from side effects (see above) from your medication.
  • You may find it hard to remember the medication or how to fit it into your lifestyle.
  • You may find it hard to keep motivated about taking the medication (especially if you're not having regular follow-up appointments to check your progress).

For tips on how to deal with these issues, read "Staying motivated."

Talking to your doctor

Without proper treatment, high cholesterol can cause serious complications, such as heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, angina (chest pain), circulation problems, and death.

Your doctor can help you find the cholesterol treatment that's right for you.

To help you prepare for your visit, print the doctor discussion guide, fill out as much information as you can, and bring it to your doctor's visit.

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The contents of this site are for informational purposes only and are meant to be discussed with your physician or other qualified health care professional before being acted on. Never disregard any advice given to you by your doctor or other qualified health care professional. Always seek the advice of a physician or other licensed health care professional regarding any questions you have about your medical condition(s) and treatment(s). This site is not a substitute for medical advice.

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