A Doctor’s View on Barriers to Cholesterol Control

By Ektaa Patel, as told to Annie Stuart

We often live busy lifestyles where the thought of adding on a task, despite it being for self-care, seems almost impossible. As children and young adults, we’re raised by busy parents who struggle to lead healthy lifestyles themselves. For the sake of convenience, meals often include takeout or frozen meals, and exercise is just an added task to an exhausting day.

Many people, especially younger ones, are at risk for high cholesterol because they’ve grown up eating a high-carb, high-fat, fast-food diet. They come to see this as the norm, which makes it harder to change. Another barrier to cholesterol control is myths about diets. For example, a keto diet may help you lose weight quickly, but it’s also high in fat, which may increase your cholesterol.

You might have a good sense of what a healthy diet is. But due to your busy lifestyle, you may just want to be told what to do. In that case, you might benefit from seeing a nutritionist to come up with a tailored plan that will work for you

Making Time for Good Health

A common myth about exercise is this: “I stay active during the day -- always doing yard work, walking up and down stairs to get my laundry, and things like that. Why do I need to do more?” But that’s not enough. You need to bring your heart rate up with aerobic exercise. It’s the best way to increase levels of the “good” type of cholesterol, which acts like a vacuum to clean out the bad type.

People often say they want to eat well and exercise, to sleep well and lower stress levels. But they “just don’t have the time.” This is especially true if you’re in your 20s or 30s and are trying to make your mark in your career. Once you clock out and go home, there’s a whole other job waiting for you -- such as caring for kids or older parents -- or both. You may find it hard to get the time to commit to a healthier lifestyle.

To make matters worse, high levels of stress produce higher cortisol levels. This may speed development of chronic conditions like heart disease.

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Resistance to Medication

A lot of times, you may not know why your doctor prescribed a cholesterol medication, such as a statin. You may not have any signs or symptoms of high cholesterol until later in life, when you’re more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. But if you don't feel any symptoms, you may be less proactive about treatment. And if you’re otherwise really healthy, you may not be used to taking a lot of medications.

It can be even harder to get the attention of someone who has inherited high cholesterol. If there’s a history of heart attacks or strokes in your family, though, cholesterol control is extra important. 

Side effects can also be an obstacle, especially for older people. For example, maybe you’ve talked with a friend who had bad muscle aches from a drug, so you’re scared to take it.

As you age, you may need to take pills daily for more than one condition. This makes it harder to keep taking them all. That’s why we often prescribe pills that have a combination effect.

It Requires a Team Effort

Be sure to build a good relationship with your provider. Choose someone who really understands your lifestyle and knows you want to stay in control of your own health.

More regular follow-up visits may help you stay motivated. We can write down the numbers, help you set goals, and watch your cholesterol levels go down. You may be more likely to stick to your cholesterol plan if you know someone will check on you sooner rather than later. And you’re likely to feel more cared for and in control.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 22, 2020

Sources

Ektaa Patel, cardiology nurse practitioner, PREvent Clinic, Sandy Springs, GA.

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