Having high cholesterol isn’t like having a headache, a sore knee, or an upset stomach. You know if your head, knee, or stomach hurts, and you do something about it. Although high cholesterol doesn’t make you hurt—you can’t feel it—it definitely hurts your body. So if your doctor prescribes medication, take it.
Cholesterol is a fat that the human body needs to make important hormones. If we have too much cholesterol in our bloodstream, however, it builds up in the walls of all our arteries. This process starts at a very young age—even teenagers can show signs of fatty deposits in their arteries.
As the years go by, these fatty deposits get progressively worse. The arteries can become severely clogged—resulting in heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease. You can’t feel this process happening, but you will feel its effects when your heart or brain is damaged.
It’s very important to have your cholesterol checked as part of staying healthy. If your cholesterol is high, you may be able to correct it by following a healthy lifestyle and diet.
If this route is not successful, there are many good medication options that have saved millions of lives and have an excellent safety track record. The statin drugs are the most commonly prescribed medications for high cholesterol. They are very effective and safe, and serious side effects are uncommon.
So the next time you see your primary care provider, make sure you have had a recent cholesterol blood test and that your cholesterol numbers are where they should be—for many people a cholesterol of less than 200 is a reasonable goal. If a healthy diet and lifestyle don’t correct things, don’t hesitate to follow your doctor’s advice and take “a pill.” It could save your life.
Rolf L. Andersen, M.D., has been a prominent Lancaster County cardiologist since 1989 and a member of The Heart Group of Lancaster General Health team since its inception. A fellow of the American College of Cardiology and board certified in cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology, Dr. Andersen is a research investigator at The Lancaster Heart & Stroke Foundation and has participated in 40 clinical studies on the safety and effectiveness of various drug therapies and treatment devices. Dr. Andersen has authored several medical journal articles and abstracts and is director of the Risk Factor Clinic for The Heart Group of Lancaster General Health.