This post was sponsored by Kowa Pharmaceuticals America, Inc. Personal opinions and thoughts are my own.
When Take Cholesterol to Heart spokesperson Howie Mandel was diagnosed with high cholesterol in his 30s, he was prescribed a statin medication and eventually stopped taking it without speaking to his doctor due to the fear of potential side effects. Until he understood the dangerous connection between high cholesterol and a life-threatening heart attack, he wasn’t following his doctor’s advice.
Howie isn’t alone. At least half of the people prescribed a statin, a drug to help lower cholesterol, stop taking it within the first year. Many do this without having a conversation with their doctor. In fact, in a recent online survey called ACTION*, which polled 5,000 Americans aged 45+ with high cholesterol, only 45% of current statin users say they communicate openly with their healthcare provider about challenges with their statin. As Howie says in this video, he eventually had a meaningful conversation with his doctor about the importance of treating high cholesterol and was prescribed a different statin that works well for him.
Untreated high cholesterol exponentially increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. It can be deceiving because you can’t see or feel it like some other conditions, but it can have serious consequences. Treating high cholesterol is essential in avoiding a potentially dangerous problem.
How does high cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease?
LDL cholesterol is a fatty substance which travels through the bloodstream. Along the way, this “bad” cholesterol can deposit and sink into the walls of arteries, creating a buildup called plaque. Think of it as sludge forming on the inside of pipes. As plaque builds, the artery walls thicken which narrows the space available for blood to flow. Ultimately, the buildup of plaque slows down the flow of blood. This reduced blood flow robs cells of the oxygen they need. This type of heart disease, atherosclerosis, is often referred to as “hardening of the arteries.” When these plaque deposits are in arteries that supply the heart, it is called coronary artery disease. When they form in the arteries that supply the arms and legs, it is called peripheral artery disease. These plaque deposits can cause problems in several ways.
The plaque gets too big.
As the plaque grows, it can block the flow of blood, which means whichever part of the body the artery supply is in danger. This blockage is especially dangerous if the artery supplies blood flow to the heart or brain. This process happens gradually, but there can be some warning signs. These include:
- pain, numbness, weakness, coldness or change in color in the legs, arms, hands or feet
- erectile dysfunction
- increasing blood pressure
- chest pain
- fluid retention/swelling in ankles, legs and feet
- shortness of breath
- decreased urine output
High cholesterol has no symptoms. There are often no symptoms of atherosclerosis either, which is why it is so important to see your doctor and have a conversation about your risk of heart disease including testing your cholesterol levels to help prevent a problem from forming.
A blood clot forms behind the plaque.
Imagine a rock on the bank of a stream. As the stream flows some of the water swirls behind the rock before it eventually goes downstream. As this happens in the bloodstream, a clot can form. When it finally floats downstream, it can get stuck as the blood vessels split and narrow to feed parts of the body. This process happens quickly, and sometimes violently. Too often the first sign of a problem is a heart attack or stroke.
A piece of plaque breaks free.
Our bodies are smart. When it detects an injury or something foreign, like plaque, the body tries to surround it to keep it isolated. This process is called inflammation. Because of this “walling off,” the piece of plaque can break away from the artery and either clog the flow of blood like a trap door closing, or float downstream until it gets caught in a smaller blood vessel. Again, this can happen rapidly.
How do statins protect the heart?
Statins lower LDL cholesterol in the blood by blocking a liver enzyme called hydroxy-methyl glutaryl-coenzyme A reductase (HMG-CoA reductase). Not only do statins decrease the number of fatty deposits floating in the bloodstream, but they also help prevent heart attacks and strokes by:
- reducing the size of plaques that have already formed
- reducing inflammation
- stabilizing the plaque deposits already in the arteries so they can’t break free
Wondering how to talk to your doctor about cholesterol?
The Take Cholesterol to Heart campaign website has great tools to help you prepare for a candid conversation with your doctor. The only way to know if your cholesterol is high or if you have plaque in your arteries is to visit your doctor. Go in armed with an understanding about why treating high cholesterol is essential and share all your symptoms and concerns.
High cholesterol is a risk none of us can afford. Join Howie Mandel in the Take Cholesterol to Heart campaign to help inspire others to speak up before they stop their statin. Visit TakeCholesteroltoHeart.com for more information on the risk factors of high cholesterol and tools and resources to help you talk to your doctor about finding the statin that might be right for you. Talk to your doctor and protect your heart.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Kowa Pharmaceuticals America, Inc. and should not be construed to constitute medical advice. My personal story and opinions are my own. I am not a medical professional and am not qualified to give medical advice. Please talk with your doctor about your individual medical situation.
*Harris Poll conducted ACTION: The Statin Survey (Understanding Patient Adherence and Concerns with Statins, and Medication Discussions with Physicians) online on behalf of Kowa Pharmaceuticals America, Inc. from July 7 to August 4, 2017, among 5,014 U.S. adults age 45 or older who had been diagnosed with high cholesterol and had used a statin to treat high cholesterol. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.
- CDC – Coronary Artery Disease
- American Heart Association – Atherosclerosis: What Role Does Cholesterol Play?
- AHA – Inherited High Cholesterol Increases Long-Term Risks of Heart Disease
- Mayo Clinic – Arteriosclerosis/atherosclerosis
- Mayo Clinic – Peripheral Artery Disease
- Mayo Clinic – Acute Kidney Failure
- AHA – Inflammation and Heart Disease