Been to the doctor lately? Have you been told your cholesterol levels are too high? There is good news on the horizon – new guidelines are in place and you might not be as bad off as you think. The New York Times just released an article about the changes, and here’s what you need to know:
1. The focus is no longer on lab numbers. Doctors are now looking at your lifestyle habits to assess your risk for heart disease and stroke. If you exercise, eat right, don’t smoke or drink to excess, and your cholesterol levels are still too high, then doctors will assess whether a drug will truly alleviate those risks without subjecting you to too many unwanted side effects.
2. Know your risk. This sounds obvious, but again – it’s not about the lab numbers. There is an online calculator available to help you assess your risk, but these recommendations shouldn’t be followed blindly. Only you can determine exactly what constitutes a high enough risk that you are willing to be treated with drugs – and risk the potential side effects.
3. Use medications proven to reduce risk. Simply improving lab numbers may not reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke. Numerous studies have shown that popular drugs that may have improved lab tests for cholesterol failed to reduce risk. The drug class with clear evidence that it can lower risk in many groups of patients is statins. In fact, statins seem to lower risk regardless of your cholesterol levels.
That’s it! The simple bottom line message is – don’t chase targets, know your risk, and if you do need drug therapy, choose a statin. This should guide the conversation you have with your doctor.
Patricia Wilcox, CPhT