Healthy blood vessels for life: Playing your part

High cholesterol can damage your blood vessels, leading to serious health problems such as heart attack or stroke. Treating high cholesterol can help reduce this risk. You have an important role to play in keeping your blood vessels healthy because, according to Dr. Stephen Fort, Associate Professor of Medicine at Dalhousie University, optimal treatment depends on understanding and sticking with your treatment plan.

Here are a few steps you can take to play a part in your treatment.

Talk to your doctor

The first step in managing your cholesterol and protecting your blood vessels is to talk to your doctor. Your doctor can assess your heart disease risk, determine the cholesterol targets you should be aiming for, and work with you to develop a cholesterol treatment plan. Depending on your risk and your cholesterol levels, your treatment plan may involve lifestyle changes alone or a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. Lifestyle changes include fitness and healthy living (including healthy eating).

Know your targets

Based on your risk factors for heart disease, your doctor will recommend target levels of cholesterol that you should aim for. Ask your doctor what your target levels should be and, at each visit, find out your current cholesterol levels and whether you are meeting your targets. This will help you stay up to date on how your treatment plan is working.

Follow your treatment plan

Dr. Fort says that one of the most important parts of managing your cholesterol is to stick with your treatment plan. Follow a healthy exercise and nutrition plan, and take your medication as prescribed by your doctor. Even the most effective medications will not work unless they are used properly! Check with your doctor to make sure you understand how to use your medication and what to expect from your treatment, in terms of beneficial effects (such as how much improvement in your cholesterol levels should you expect) and side effects. If you find you are forgetting to take your medication, or if you have concerns about the medication, talk to your pharmacist or doctor for suggestions to help you manage these issues.

Dr. Fort recognizes that it can be tough to make lifestyle changes such as exercising and eating a healthy diet. You can't see or feel high cholesterol, so you may find it hard to get motivated to make these changes in your life. But it's important to get your cholesterol under control - this helps keep your blood vessels healthy and reduces your risk of serious health problems such as stroke and heart attack.

To succeed with lifestyle changes, you'll need help and encouragement over the long term. Ask your doctor to keep you up to date on how your cholesterol levels and heart disease risk are changing over time. This will help you see the effects of the healthy changes you're making, and seeing results may help you stick to your plan over time.

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