Cholesterol is one health marker that becomes increasingly important as you get older. Most people know their cholesterol levels matter. These levels are routinely measured during blood tests. Cholesterol numbers mean different things for different people, however. Some people need to monitor their levels more closely than others.

Use this discussion guide to help you get the answers you need from your doctor about high cholesterol.

Topics You Should Discuss with Your Doctor

Talk with your doctor about your cholesterol at your next appointment. Before you go, however, arm yourself with a few questions. These will help you understand your state of health.

What Are My Risk Factors?

Research has determined that certain people are more likely to develop high cholesterol than others. Some of the factors that influence this risk include age, gender, race, and health history. For example, if you have a family member that was diagnosed with high blood pressure before the age of 55, you have an increased risk of developing the condition.

Get Prepared To Talk To Your Doc By Learning the Basics Of Cholesterol »

What Might Happen If I Choose Not to Treat My Cholesterol Issue?

Having high LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels puts you at an increased risk for several cardiovascular conditions. These include heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Additionally, people with high blood cholesterol are at an increased risk of developing high blood sugar and, eventually, type 2 diabetes. Based on your health history, your doctor can discuss your risks.

Are Statins My Only Choice?

New guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) stress one thing: statins are only one part of the treatment equation. In addition to these medications, you should talk with your doctor about lifestyle changes, medications, and other cholesterol-lowering strategies that can help reduce your levels. The new guidelines from the AHA and ACC are not right for everyone in every case. Your doctor can help evaluate your needs, your lifestyle, and your personal health history. Together, the two of you can decide which course of treatment is right for you.

What Side Effects Are Possible?

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released new guidelines regarding statin use and possible side effects. After years of investigation and study, the FDA realized statin medicines may cause certain side effects. These side effects include increased blood sugar level, type 2 diabetes, and cognitive problems, like forgetfulness and memory loss. Some people may assume these side effects are too costly and not worth the risk, but they are rare. Your doctor can also help you lower your risk of these side effects should you decide to begin treatment with a statin medication.

How Do I Treat High Cholesterol If I Have Other Conditions?

Unfortunately, high cholesterol can complicate other conditions. For example, research shows that type 2 diabetes lowers good cholesterol and increases bad cholesterol. This puts you at risk for cardiovascular issues, including heart attack and stroke. However, if you don’t have type 2 diabetes when you’re diagnosed with a cholesterol issue, having high cholesterol puts you at risk for developing it later. 

Review the medicines and treatments you’re currently using with your physician or healthcare provider. Make sure the medicines do not put you at a greater risk for side effects and that your treatment program is properly addressing your condition.

Changes in the Guidelines About Statins

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released new guidelines that can help doctors monitor possible side effects in people who use statin medications. Statins are the most common high cholesterol treatment. These medicines are designed to lower levels of “bad” cholesterol in your blood. Talk with your doctor about how these changes may affect your current treatment plan.

Make an Appointment

When it comes to your cholesterol levels, the most important thing you can do is know your levels. High levels of bad cholesterol can cause serious health issues and conditions, including heart disease and high blood pressure. Once diagnosed, however, treatment can help lower the likelihood of these problems.

If you have a regular, yearly check-up, make sure your doctor tests your cholesterol levels. Most blood panel tests measure these levels. Keeping a tab on your cholesterol levels can help you catch problems before they become difficult to treat. 

Read Video Transcript »

Doctor’s Whiteboard: “High Cholesterol 101”

Cholesterol, and its role in the body, is one of the most misunderstood topics in the world of healthcare. You’ve likely read or watched numerous news reports about the dangers of cholesterol in your diet and how it can lead to heart disease. But that’s far from the whole story.

Cholesterol is a crucial building block of every cell in your body. It’s so important that your liver actually produces most of the cholesterol that you’ll ever need, regardless of your diet.

There are two main types of cholesterol. LDL, or low-density, cholesterol particles are a combination of fat and protein that travel through your bloodstream and deliver cholesterol to the tissues that need it, such as nerve cells. HDL, or high-density, cholesterol particles contain a much higher ratio of protein to fat, and their function is to scour the bloodstream, vacuuming up excess bits of cholesterol and returning those to the liver. HDL also helps keep the blood vessels and arteries clear, and that’s why it’s often referred to as “good” cholesterol.

Cholesterol can become dangerous when your body has too much LDL or “bad” cholesterol. These fatty particles can accumulate inside of blood vessels and form clogs, or plaques, which can lead to a heart attack.

For many people, it’s possible to control cholesterol levels by making changes to their diet, like avoiding saturated fats, and getting more exercise. However, since the liver produces roughly 75 percent of a person’s total cholesterol, lifestyle changes are not always effective. 

One of the key medications to treat high cholesterol is a class of drugs called statins. Statins work to block the production of cholesterol in the liver and have been shown to bring down LDL levels, boost HDL levels, and lower the risk of developing heart disease.

Statins, like any medication, have side effects and may interact with treatments for related conditions. People who are taking other medications, such as blood thinners, may be at risk for developing drug interaction side effects. Many medications are metabolized, or broken down, in the liver. For some people with elevated cholesterol, it sometimes makes sense to use a statin that breaks down outside of the liver where there is less of a chance for dangerous side effects.

The good news about cholesterol is that through a combination of diet, exercise, and working with your doctor, it’s possible to dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease. If you’d like to learn more about treating high cholesterol, take a look at the information we have here at Healthline or make an appointment with your doctor.