Tracy Joy King, Pharm.D., Registered Pharmacist, Clinical Pharmacy Practice Resident
February is American Heart Month! Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women? 715,000 Americans have a heart attack every year and about 600,000 people die from heart disease. High blood cholesterol is an important risk factor for heart disease.
It is important that your provider measure your cholesterol at least once every 5 years. You may need to measure your cholesterol more often if you have existing heart disease. There are two important factors to think of when looking at the results of your test. The cholesterol level marked LDL represents the bad cholesterol that forms blockages in your arteries. An optimal LDL is less than 100 mg/dL. An LDL above 160 is high. You may need a more aggressive and lower target LDL if you have risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, family history of heart disease, older age and low HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is the value on your labs that represents the good cholesterol that keeps your cholesterol from building up in your arteries. A higher level of the HDL is better for you. HDL levels of 50-60 mg/dL or higher are considered ideal.
The best way to increase your HDL is physical activity! Physical activity can also help you lower the bad cholesterol in your body. It is recommended that you get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity for most days of the week.
Controlling your diet is also another effective way of lowering your cholesterol. Looking at the nutrition facts on your food? Saturated fat is the bad cholesterol to look out for. Though things like eggs and red meats are blamed for cholesterol, you still need a good amount of lean meats in your diet. Also, beware of eating out as fast foods usually have extra saturated fat.
If you smoke, consider seeking advice from your pharmacist or doctor on ways to quit. Smoking cessation is the number one thing that you can do to decrease your risk of a heart attack.
There are multiple medications that a doctor may put you on if exercise and diet do not effectively lower your cholesterol. The main group of medications that are most effective and frequently used are called the statins. Statins can reduce morbidity and mortality in patients who have high risk for heart disease.
If you are currently on a statin medication, make sure that your pharmacist has looked out for drug-drug interactions. Did you know that drinking grapefruit juice with these medications may increase your risk for side effects? Also make sure that you are telling your pharmacist if you are taking anything over the counter that they might not know about.
Other medications such as a class called the fibrates can also lower your cholesterol. The main side effect with all cholesterol medications is muscle aches. If you experience intense muscle aches on these medications seek medical advice or attention.
In summary, physical activity, diet, smoking cessation and adherence to your cholesterol medications are key to reducing your cholesterol and being heart healthy!