Most people do not take their cholesterol treatment as recommended by their doctor. According to Dr. Peter Lin, family physician and Director of the Primary Care Initiative at the Canadian Heart Research Centre, it's important to examine the reasons why you may not be taking your treatment. Then you can find ways to cope with these issues. Here are some suggestions.
Putting side effects into perspective
Concern about side effects is a common reason people don't use their treatment. Dr. Lin has found that people tend to overestimate the risk of side effects. It's important to put side effects into perspective. For example, although the side effect of muscle damage with cholesterol-lowering medications has been in the news, it's actually quite rare: according to Dr. Lin it affects only about 1 in every 25,000 people. Talk to your doctor about which side effects you may expect, how likely they are (in real numbers) and what you should do if they occur.
Making the benefits real to you
Often, people don't stick with their cholesterol treatment because the benefits just don't seem real to them. Cholesterol seems like "just a number" that you can't see or feel. But it's much more than this – lowering your cholesterol can dramatically reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack and help you live longer. To help make this more real to you, Dr. Lin suggests:
- Print out a picture of an artery with cholesterol build-up or a heart damaged by clogged arteries (such as the warning picture seen on some cigarette packages) and another artery that's clear and healthy so you can see how your treatment is helping behind the scenes.
- Ask your doctor about your cholesterol treatment targets, and get copies of your blood tests to see if you're getting closer to your targets.
- Think of your blood vessels as a car, and your cholesterol treatment as a special rust-proofer that not only prevents rust from building up but, if used right, can also repair some existing rust damage. You need to apply the rust-proofer regularly for it to work properly, but if you do, your car will stay rust-free.
Dealing with other issues
- If you tend to forget to refill your medication, ask your pharmacy about automated refills or email reminders to fill your prescription.
- If you tend to forget to take your medication, try to get into a routine where you take it at the same time each day, put the medication somewhere it is easy to see, leave yourself reminders (such as sticky notes or an alarm), and coordinate taking your medication with other activities you do each day.
- If you're having problems finding time to exercise, try exercising in periods of at least 10 minutes each instead of trying to block off 30 to 60 minutes all at once.
- If you're not sure how to change your diet, talk to a registered dietitian; they can help steer you in the right direction about your diet.
- Remember that although diet and exercise can help control cholesterol, some people's bodies make a lot of cholesterol and they need medication in addition to diet and exercise in order to get cholesterol down to a healthy level.
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